Scottish women’s organisations make final appeal to House of Lords to scrap the ‘rape clause’
SCOTTISH WOMEN’S ADVOCACY GROUPS have called on peers in the House of Lords to re-examine and scrap the “rape clause” which limits tax credits within Universal Credit to two children unless a third or subsequent child was the result of rape.
In a letter to the secondary legislation scrutiny committee of the House of Lords, Scotland’s women’s organisations Engender, Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS) and Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA), have not only asked for the intrusive clause to be scrapped but have condemned how the UK Government have attempted to avoid a full parliamentary debate.
The letter came following the refusal by the UK Government of the request by Glasgow SNP MP Alison Thewliss for an emergency debate on the issue before it went to the Lords.
Charities have repeatedly told the government that this ‘family cap’ will result in a deepening of poverty for women already heavily impacted by the policies of austerity and cuts.
“Our existing stance, however, is that this policy violates numerous human rights under existing international human rights mechanisms.” Dr Marsha Scott
Their letter reads: “The draft legislation was pushed through the UK Parliament without debate, thereby shielding the Government from its obligation to explain its policy and the rationale behind it, and denying Members an opportunity to ask questions of the government. At the least, members should be made aware of the proposal which will require women to disclose sexual violence to gain access to social security, and be given an opportunity to debate the policy and its intended objective.”
Emma Ritch, executive director of Engender, said: “Both the so-called ‘family cap’ and the ‘rape clause’ are abhorrent policies which will cause financial and emotional harm to women. This issue has been raised 25 times in the chamber by Alison Thewliss MP, and yet this decision was forced through without due scrutiny or debate by Parliament. We hope the Lords will use this opportunity to urge Parliament to reconsider this inhumane and undemocratic decision.”
The rape clause is also considered cruel because it has the potential to force women who are survivors to relive the terror of their experience while adding to the humiliation of having to prove the fact of their previous ordeal of sexual violence. It further places the onus for proof of abuse and violence on the shoulders of women as well as extending burdon of cuts on women, 86 per cent of which have fallen on women from 2010.
“Forcing rape survivors to disclose sexual violence in order to access benefits is inhumane. We cannot support this policy.” Sandy Brindley
The UK Government had proposed to ensure that the department for work and pensions (DWP) would use a network of ‘third party referrers’ to record women’s disclosures and pass them to UK welfare officials. However, RCS rejected this option and the choice of being a ‘third party referrer’ as it would mean becoming a tool of the government responsible for negatively impacting on the survivors of rape.
Sandy Brindley, chief executive of RCS said: “Rape Crisis Scotland has serious concerns about the impact of this policy on rape survivors in Scotland. Forcing rape survivors to disclose sexual violence in order to access benefits is inhumane. We cannot support this policy.”
Not only women’s organisation but also unions representing civil servants have voiced opposition to the rape clause. In August last year, the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) wrote a letter to then UK welfare reform minister Lord Freud asking for the policy to be dropped from the Universal Credit overhaul.
It was SNP MP, Alison Thewliss, who represents Glasgow Central, who first drew attention to the policy during the summer budget of July 2015, calling upon Lord Freud not to “ride roughshod” over civil servants’ wishes.
“Both the so-called ‘family cap’ and the ‘rape clause’ are abhorrent policies which will cause financial and emotional harm to women.” Emma Ritch
Lord Freud resigned at the end of last year and the UK Government has decided to power through with the policy. However, groups such as RCS have pointed out that the House of Lorda committee could, through its own legislative mechanisms invite peers to begin Lord’s scrutiny of the policy.
Marsha Scott, chief executive of SWA, added: “Scottish Women’s Aid has just been approached by the DWP to discuss implementation. We have agreed to have a discussion and will do so. Our existing stance, however, is that this policy violates numerous human rights under existing international human rights mechanisms and therefore cannot be made “acceptable” to anyone who values women’s and children’s dignity and rights. We know that the Women’s Aid groups in Scotland will always offer and provide any support they can to women experiencing domestic and sexual assault, and Scottish Women’s Aid’s stance in no way interferes with that commitment.”
The UK Government did not provide a reply when contacted about the letter to the Lords.
The launch of the “family cap” will be on April 6.
Picture courtesy of UK Parliament
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