Election season is in full bloom now, and one policy in particular has attracted widespread criticisms – the so-called “rape clause”. Four out of the five Holyrood party leaders attended a protest against the new policy (the exception being, of course, Ruth Davidson), with Nicola Sturgeon calling it “disgusting”. Hundreds of protesters have also gathered in George Square calling for the scrapping of the policy, but have so far been ignored.
So what is the rape clause and why has it prompted such a backlash? The UK government is implementing a massive overhaul of the benefits system, with plans to phase out six current benefits and replace them with a singular Universal Credit. One of these benefits, child tax credit, has now been limited to the parent’s first two children, with certain exceptions. It’s one of these exceptions that has proved so controversial: if a woman has a third child as a result of rape or while in an abusive relationship, she will still be eligible for the benefit, but she has to ‘prove’ it.
In order to claim child tax credits under these circumstances, the woman will have to fill in a “non-consensual conception form” with the help of a third party professional. How this will work in practice is far from clear, with experts criticising the perceived onus on healthcare professionals to “arbitrate” or even judge claims of rape. Many of the women affected may never have reported or spoken to anyone about their rape for numerous reasons, yet they are now being asked to prove themselves.
Even more concerning is the fact that women cannot claim the exemption if they share residence with their abusers, as if domestic violence is less serious if the couple live together. There is no way to get around this difficulty, as applying the exemption to these women as well will mean placing them in a very dangerous situation. Either they don’t claim the exemption and struggle financially, or they claim and risk having their abusive partner find out that they have reported their rape.
Without asking for proof of being raped, there is no way in which to actually determine who “deserves” the exemption, and asking for proof is morally reprehensible. The sole solution? Scrap the changes in their entirety. There are enough children living in poverty already.
[Louise Wylie @womanpendulum]