Consultation closes: Government urged to listen and scrap tax credit cuts

The SNP MP for Glasgow Central, Alison Thewliss, has urged the UK Government to “genuinely listen” and drop its two child policy and rape clause following “sincere and evidence based” concerns submitted in a public consultation.

After almost 450 days of ducking the issue, the UK Government last month quietly put its “medieval” rape clause and “disastrous” two child policy for tax credits out to public consultation, following a lengthy campaign by the SNP MP.

Yesterday (Sunday) saw the closing date for submissions to the consultation. Now Ms Thewliss is calling upon the Government to reflect upon how entirely unworkable a rape clause would be and how disastrous implementing a two child policy would be for family finances.

Commenting after alison-thewliss-mp-response-to-rape-clause-consultation, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“As the Government consultation on the rape clause and two child policy has now closed, I would urge policy officials and Ministers to genuinely listen to the very sincere and evidence based concerns I and many others have submitted.

“If implemented, we now know the rape clause will almost certainly mean that DWP decision makers – with little or no training – are going to be arbitrating on whether or not a woman was raped and whether or not her third or subsequent child should receive tax credits.

“Designing a policy and consultation which asks some of the most vulnerable women in society how they would like to prove they were raped must surely be one of the most insensitive, disgusting and degrading ideas ever to emanate from Whitehall.

“Research by the Resolution Foundation indicates that the two child policy will push an extra 200,000 children, the majority of whose families are already in-work, into child poverty by 2020. These are the very “just about managing” families that the Prime Minister claims to support.

“Whatever way you look at this, it’s bad policy making, it will be disastrous and the Government must use this consultation response to scrap these awful proposals now.”

The rape clause – blog post

(The below post was published in The Telegraph on 19th January 2016)

No woman should have to prove she was raped to be able to claim child tax credits. It’s a dramatic statement, and it’s one that has raised many questions – so perhaps it’s best to go back to the start.

Hidden away on page 88 of Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget in July was a small, almost innocuous sentence, which related to the Government’s plan to restrict the child element of tax credits and Universal Credit – child benefit, essentially – to the first two children:

“The Department of Work and Pensions and HMRC will develop protections for women who have a third child as a result of rape, or other exceptional circumstances”.

I read the sentence again. I re-read it. I showed it to the colleague sitting next to me. What did this actually mean? How would DWP and HMRC prove that a child was borne of rape?

The more I thought about this, the more furious I became. Rape is a very serious crime, but yet one of the most under-reported and under-convicted crimes there is. It exists in abusive relationships, it exists in marriage. For many women, is traumatic beyond description, and it is something they feel is shameful.

How vile that this Government would consider putting a woman, who may already feel extremely vulnerable, in the position where she had to confess to an Government official that her child had been born as a result of rape. How stigmatising, for that woman, for that child and for the family. Piling humiliation on top of pain is not the essence of “protection”.

I’ve raised this with Ministers at every level of Government, including the Prime Minister himself.

For all the questions my colleagues and I have asked since the July budget, there has yet to be an answer as to how this will work, and particularly the burden of proof.

The DWP and HMRC are not known for being organisations that will take you at your word; the casework I have seen in my office gives me no confidence in either the competence or the sensitivity of these departments. What hope does a woman in such vulnerable circumstances have? Will they accept her word, or will only a criminal conviction do? We don’t yet know.

However, the real problem at the heart of this is not even the rape clause; it’s the two child policy.

For me, it’s tantamount to social engineering. It makes children a financial commodity. It passes judgement and stigmatises.

It doesn’t respect the disproportionate impact on those of particular faiths or backgrounds where larger families are the norm. It’s also economic madness, as we need more children to counter our ageing population. And it runs counter to our Government’s obligations to treat children equally under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The two child policy has not yet been fully explained or justified by this Government, other than in the most tabloid of terms. I’ve heard some suggest in carelessly callous language that you should only have the children you can afford. It does not take account of the fact that you may well be able to “afford” three children when you had them, but not if your circumstances change: what if your partner dies, if you become disabled, if your marriage breaks up?

What happens in the case where families come together with existing children from previous relationships?

The Budget claimed multiple births would be protected, but not at which stage; if your first two children are twins, will the third still be eligible, or only if that happens the other way around?

These questions and more have been asked by MPs since July, but answers have not been forthcoming.

The campaign to scrap the rape clause is gathering pace and many people are already signing the petition, which had almost 6,000 names at the last count. This should, in itself, send a message to the Government that this policy is untenable.

I very much hope that the Government has realised the mess it has got itself into, and scrap not only this outdated and potentially damaging rape clause – but the whole two child policy itself.

Campaigning MP takes rape clause fight to United Nations

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, has been asked to investigate whether the UK Government’s proposed rape clause and two child policy breaches the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK signed in 1990.

Glasgow Central MP, Alison Thewliss, has today written to the United Nations in New York and asked for a formal investigationinto the Government’s proposed policy, which is due to come into force next year.

The SNP politician believes that the UK Government’s “medieval” proposals could breach at least five of the fifty-four articles in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“It is now almost eight months since the UK Government announced its medieval two child policy and rape clause. Despite repeated questions in Parliament, letters to Ministers and a petition that attracted thousands of signatures, we still have no information from this cruel Tory Government as to how they plan to implement this pernicious policy.

“Everyone knows that that the two child policy and rape clause is unworkable, immoral and is now potentially in contravention of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which the UK signed up to almost twenty five years ago.

“It is now time for the United Nations to step in and shine a very bright light onto this cruel and thoughtless Government, who appear hell bent on making life as difficult as possible for ordinary people.

“It is clear that, over the last eight months, the Tories had hoped this campaign would be quietly dropped but it’s just not happening. The Government simply cannot be allowed to get away with a policy that is tantamount to social engineering.”

PM finally intervenes in rape clause issue

Prime Minister, David Cameron, has now personally intervened to respond to requests for clarity surrounding the Government’s proposed rape clause.

Although Alison Thewliss MP said the Prime Minister’s response “raises more questions than provides answers”, the Glasgow MP has nonetheless welcomed the Prime Minister’s personal intervention in the issue. She has written back to him to ask for a face-to-face meeting in Downing Street to press key questions which still cause major concern.

Downing Street initially responded to say that the Prime Minister had asked Treasury Ministers to deal with Ms Thewliss’ letter and questions. However, this week she received a further personal response from the Prime Minister, which suggests that the Government is “thinking very carefully” about how it responds to this “sensitive issue”.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“Enormous questions still remain unanswered. It is significant that this issue is now being dealt with personally by David Cameron and it represents a major breakthrough in the campaign to scrap the rape clause. I’m grateful to all who have helped put pressure on the Prime Minister thus far.

“I have written to ask David Cameron if he will personally meet with me to answer a number of key questions which remain unanswered and continue to cause serious concern amongst women’s welfare groups.

“In the Lords Report Stage of the Welfare Reform Bill, Lord Freud specifically ruled out an exemption for women who conceive a child in an abusive relationship. We know that the majority of rapes take place within relationships and the majority of abusive relationships also involve sexual coercion. What about women who are raped within marriage and later leave and have to claim benefits?

“There are still major questions about the burden of proof. The DWP are not known for taking people’s word on a range of issues and I don’t have any confidence that they will be able to treat women sensitively.

“We still don’t know what the regulations will look like but my caseload shows evidence of some poor decision making and cases later being overturned. If this was to be the case for a woman who has been the victim of abuse and rape, this will only add to the trauma and indignity of her experience.

“The more this issue rumbles on, the more convinced I am that both the two child policy and rape clause are completely unworkable. This isn’t about point scoring or getting one-up over the Government – it’s about doing what’s right and ditching a proposal that has the potential to cause enormous distress to vulnerable women.”

UN launches probe into “pernicious” two child policy

SNP MP, Alison Thewliss, has welcomed moves by the United Nations to launch an investigation into the UK’s proposed rape clause and two child policy for tax credits.

In February, Ms Thewliss wrote to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, and asked the UN to investigate whether the UK Government’s proposed rape clause and two child policy breached the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK signed in 1990.

The SNP politician believes that the UK Government’s “medieval” proposals could breach at least five of the fifty-four articles in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Recently, the UN responded to Ms Thewliss and confirmed that it also had concerns about the UK’s proposed welfare policies. Accordingly, the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child will be launching an investigation next week.

Ms Thewliss welcomed the UN’s intervention and said:

“Everyone knows that the medieval two child policy and rape clause is unworkable, immoral and is now almost certainly in contravention of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which the UK signed up to almost twenty five years ago.

“I warmly welcome the UN’s decision to intervene and shine a very bright light onto this cruel and thoughtless Government, which appears hell bent on making life as difficult as possible for ordinary people.

“It is clear that, over the last ten months, the Tories had hoped this campaign would be quietly dropped but the fact it has caught the attention of the UN suggests this policy is now totally untenable. The UN probe is a major boost to our campaign to end the pernicious two child policy and rape clause.

“This Government simply cannot be allowed to get away with a policy that is tantamount to social engineering.”

Civil servants’ union blasts rape clause plans

Campaigning MP, Alison Thewliss, has warmly welcomed support from one of the UK’s largest trade unions representing civil servants, which has blasted Government plans for a rape clause and two child policy.

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), which represents civil servants, said it was “firmly opposed” to the Government’s tax credit cuts and said they wanted the two child policy and rape clause to be abandoned.

Ms Thewliss, who first drew attention to the policy during the summer budget of July 2015, welcomed PCS union’s support and has called upon Lord Freud, the Government’s Welfare Reform Minister, not to “ride roughshod” over civil servants’ wishes.

Commenting, the Glasgow Central MP said:

“PCS union’s intervention should serve as a major warning to the Government that they cannot ride roughshod over the wishes of UK civil servants.

“The fact remains that the introduction of a rape clause and two child policy would put civil servants in an incredibly awkward position, almost certainly having to ask intrusive and deeply personal questions of vulnerable women, who have been raped and subject to sexual violence. That simply is not on.

“Like me, PCS have repeatedly raised these concerns with the DWP and no answers have been forthcoming about how this can be handled. The reason no answers are forthcoming is because it’s an unworkable, immoral and abhorrent policy.

“Lord Freud and the DWP should listen to, and respect, the wishes of PCS and its members and abandon this offensive and damaging policy agenda without delay.”