Rape clause concessions sneaked out as Trump takes centre stage

SNP MP Alison Thewliss has commented on the UK Government’s decision to use Donald Trump’s inauguration to sneak out details of concessions on its “pernicious” two child policy and rape clause.

The UK Government chose Trump’s inauguration day to issue a response to a controversial public consultation which closed back in November last year.

Alison Thewliss MP said:

“The UK Government clearly tried to sneak out this news just hours before Trump’s inauguration in the hope it would be buried amongst other anti-women headlines in America. That they wanted this callous policy to be buried speaks volumes in itself.

“Women across the world have been marching this weekend in solidarity with America, whilst here in the UK, the Westminster Government ploughs ahead to undermine women’s rights.

“Obviously I am pleased that the UK Government has made a number of concessions, which will go some way to reducing some of the cruellest aspects associated with this pernicious proposal.

“I particularly welcome the u-turn on multiple births and that there will be no time limit on the reporting of rape. What is also encouraging is the decision to remove frontline DWP and HMRC staff from gatekeeping on this incredibly sensitive process. However, there are still fundamental problems with this pernicious two-child policy, not least concerning those of faith and ethnic minority backgrounds.

“The UK Government’s own response clearly identifies that the most controversial aspect of the policy was the rape clause. Ministers even go on to concede that most respondents felt it was unacceptable for the UK Government to ask women to re-live the ordeal of a rape just in order to make a claim for benefit. Despite receiving that loud and overwhelming message, this appalling and crass Tory Government refuse to listen.

“The fact remains that this policy, however diluted, is still anti-women, anti-family and fundamentally wicked.

“There are still a number of very serious unanswered questions about the practicalities of a policy due to be implemented in just a few months’ time. I’ll be using this crucial time to fight these proposals all the way, particularly when they come to the House as a statutory instrument.”

Civil servants’ union shunned by DWP on rape clause

SNP MPs have reacted with fury to news that the Government hasn’t even bothered to discuss its proposed rape clause with PCS, the leading trade union representing civil servants.

The revelation emanates from a written parliamentary question, confirming that Government has not discussed plans for a rape clause, which the MPs argue “would put civil servants in an incredibly awkward position”

An earlier answer to a written parliamentary question suggested that the Government had discussed its plans with a range of stakeholders and organisations. However, upon further questioning by using a device known as ‘pursuant questions’, it was revealed that the main civil servants’ union has been shut out by the Government.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP – who has been leading the campaign against the rape clause and two child policy – said:

“The more this policy is scrutinised, the more flaws we find. The DWP seemed to think sneaking this out to a quick public consultation would be another box ticked and they could plough ahead with their medieval rape clause and pernicious two child policy.

“Momentum is growing ever more amongst a cross-party group of MPs, trade unions, faith communities and third sector groups who are all united in rejecting this appalling policy.”

Chris Stephens MP, who is Chair of the Parliamentary PCS Group, added:

“This Government has been caught trying to bluff their way through answers to written parliamentary questions. It beggars belief that this Tory Government announced plans to bring forward a rape clause over 500 days ago, yet it hasn’t stopped to pick up the phone to trade unions and seek their views. Aside from the utter barbarism of asking women to prove they were raped to receive benefits, it would also put DWP civil servants in an incredibly awkward position. Staff need specific training on this deeply sensitive issue.

“The public consultation might be closed but it is imperative that the Government acts without delay and invites the views of all trade unions and staff within the DWP who would also be affected by this monstrous policy”.

Rape clause minister resigns

Alison Thewliss MP has welcomed news that the Welfare Minister, Lord Freud, is resigning from the Government.

The Tory Peer, who was handed the welfare reform brief by David Cameron in 2010, has signalled his intention to leave the Government at the end of the month. The SNP MP welcomed this development, saying that Lord Freud was “without doubt one of coldest, heartless and most ignorant politicians” she had ever met.

The un-elected Tory Peer had been tasked with driving the Government’s welfare cuts programme, which includes limiting tax credits to two children per family and a rape clause whereby women who would have to prove their third or subsequent child was born as a result of rape.

Thewliss and Freud clashed earlier in the year during a meeting at the DWP’s headquarters in Caxton House, London. Following the meeting, the Glasgow Central MP condemned Freud’s remark that women who are subject to domestic and sexual abuse should “just flee” their situations.

Commenting on Freud’s resignation announcement, SNP MP Alison Thewliss said:

“Lord Freud was without doubt one of the coldest, most heartless and ignorant politicians I’ve ever had the misfortune of dealing with in almost ten years of elected politics.

“His blatant disregard for some of the most vulnerable women in society was utterly appalling and his departure from Government is a very welcome development. His suggestion that women experiencing abuse from their intimate partner should “just flee” revealed to me how utterly out of touch he was with reality and how unfit he was to be making policy for women and children who have already been through severe trauma.

“With the Government’s rape clause consultation having just closed at the weekend, I am heartened in the knowledge that Freud will no longer be overseeing this medieval and pernicious policy agenda.

“Throughout this entire campaign, I have been of the view that any Minister with a sense of compassion or decency would understand that making women prove they were raped to receive tax credits is utterly degrading and the policy should be scrapped. Lord Freud’s departure from Government gives me a real and renewed sense of hope that this Government will now see sense and ditch this appalling proposal.”

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.”

Rape clause – Government finally allows the public to have their say

Campaigning MP, Alison Thewliss, has welcomed a climb down from the UK Government which has now finally relented and put its proposed two child policy and rape clause out to public consultation.

The SNP MP has been putting pressure on the Government for the last fifteen months to scrap the policy. Ms Thewliss has also consistently criticised the Government’s lack of consultation.

Ms Thewliss is now calling upon stakeholders, constituents and interested individuals to “pile in” with responses to the consultation and send a clear message to the Government that it must drop the entire policy.

Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss commented:

“It’s a small but significant step forward that, fifteen months after exposing this cruel policy, the Government has finally relented to pressure and gone out to public consultation.

“After dozens of exchanges with Ministers on this issue, it has been increasingly clear that this policy was dreamt up in Whitehall and not seriously thought through.

“One of the key points about getting this put out to public consultation means the Government must listen to rape crisis campaigners, women’s groups, religious organisations, and welfare charities who are crystal clear that these policies are unworkable, immoral and medieval.

“I urge all interested parties and individuals to pile in, respond to the consultation and leave this Tory Government in no doubt that their cruel rape clause and pernicious two child policy must be scrapped.”