Protestors in Edinburgh against the family cap and rape clause say nothing less than a full u-turn will address injustice
A DEMONSTRATION in Edinburgh against the UK Government’s controversial two child cap on tax credits and the associated “rape clause” on Thursday (19 April) offered a rallying cry to opponents of the policy to keep the issue in the spotlight and “stay angry”.
Organised by a group of feminist activists – Brenna Jessie, Ceris Aston, Sarah Masson and Michelle Robertson – the protest brought campaigners and cross-party politicians together at The Mound.
The policy, which limits child tax credit to the first two children in a family, with an exemption for women who disclose that their third child was conceived as a result of rape, came into force one year ago and has been vociferously opposed by women’s, equalities and anti-poverty organisations across the UK.
Speaking to CommonSpace, organiser Brenna Jessie, aged 24, said she had a message for people who want to see the policy scrapped: “Get angry and stay angry. It’s really important that we know that this policy doesn’t belong to any one political party, any one politician, it doesn’t belong to me, it doesn’t belong to any of us – it’s on all of us to fight this with all of our might.”
Impassioned speeches were delivered by SNP MP Alison Thewliss and Scottish Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale, both of whom have campaigned against the policy since its inception, along with Sandy Brindley of Rape Crisis Scotland, Kellie O’Dowd of Women’s Aid Ireland, activist Mridul Wadhwa, and campaigner Talat Yaqoob.
Thewliss called attention to the surreptitious manner in which the policy was published. “This policy was snuck in by the Tory Government, they wanted to make sure at every stage to hide this policy. The consultation – they brought the results of that out on the day of Trump’s inauguration when they knew the eyes of the world were looking elsewhere. They have avoided scrutiny at every turn, and when they have scrutiny, they can’t answer for it.”
Speaking on the impacts of the “rape clause”, which also requires that the women are not living with the parent of the child, Thewliss said the policy was putting women’s lives at risk. “We know that when women are forced to leave an abusive partner, that is the most dangerous time. That is the time when most women who leave their partners are murdered.”
The government requires that women who do try to make use of the clause gain verification from third party professionals, which could include health or social workers or support services. In Scotland, all women’s organisations and rape and sexual assault support services have refused to act in those role, in protest against the policy.
“This policy, this government, is putting women at risk. And they know that, and they are still pursuing this despicable policy.” SNP MP @alisonthewliss at the #scrapthefamilycap #scraptherapeclause demo in Edinburgh tonight pic.twitter.com/ZgDAwaoKMG
— CommonSpace (@TheCommonSpace) April 19, 2018
Anna MacIver, a 22 year old student at Robert Gordon University and volunteer for the Young Women’s Movement told CommonSpace why she had come to the demonstration. “The policy shouldn’t have happened in the first place so the fact that a year on we are still having to protest is pretty terrible.
“This policy is basically shaming women and the women here – and men too – are not happy about this and we’re going to continue protesting till it changes.
“This is an issue where rightfully so that people are getting angry, and there’s almost this stereotype that ‘oh, here are the angry women, here are the angry feminists shouting about something’, which it’s not, but we deserve to be angry, because it’s awful.”
Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) estimates that the two child cap will push 250,000 children into poverty by 2020 as, while a similar number who are already living in poverty will face still graver circumstances. As such, the charity has argued that the policy contravenes the UK’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Brenna Jessie was clear that the “rape clause” is just the icing on the cake of an unjust policy, and as such the only solution can be scrapping the cap in full. “The rape clause is so obviously awful but what we need people to understand is that the two child cap is just as horrendous,” she said.
“It might seem more innocuous, it might seem less harmful but the reality is that these are horrific policies and both of them need to go.
“I do think the UK Government needs to consider that if they’ve developed a policy where you need an exemption for rape survivors then there’s probably something wrong, and if they had asked the right folk as the policy was being developed then they would never have got to this point.”
Speaking to the social security committee at the Scottish Parliament earlier this week, secretary for the Department of Work and Pensions Esther McVey argued that the “rape clause” could give women an “an opportunity to talk” about their experiences. “It is potentially double support there – them getting the money they need and maybe an outlet which they might possibly need,” she said.
“Esther McVey suggested women who came forward to fill out this clause might want to talk about their experiences and in particular talk to people who work in the DWP. She’s clearly never spoken to anyone who lives in the real world.” @kezdugdale at #scrapthefamilycap demo pic.twitter.com/BiaXbg5xgQ
— CommonSpace (@TheCommonSpace) April 19, 2018
These remarks were lambasted by the speakers at the demonstration, with activist Talat Yaqoob stating: “Either Esther McVey is lacking in humanity altogether or has no reality check of the impact of her own government’s policies.”
Yaqoob said that for the women affected, the policy was “holding the food on their table, their livelihood, the clothing, the support they can give to their children, to ransom”, and said the responsibility laid with everyone to prevent the issue from “fading into the background”.
Jenni Ochoa, a volunteer for Edinburgh Rape Crisis Scotland, aged 38, told CommonSpace that it was important to keep up the pressure against the policy because “the problem hasn’t gone away”.
“I think it’s fantastic that MPs are highlighting it, but the public should definitely be more up in arms,” she said. “I certainly know that, despite volunteering at ERCC and despite being a feminist, a lot of my friends had no idea that this was occurring, so the public knowledge isn’t there.”
“Our voices need to get louder and it needs to spread – every little voice does make a difference,” she added.
Ochoa said it was clear that there was a reason why the UK Government had pushed the policy through under the radar. “It’s because they know there’s going to be a massive outcry about it, and why would they think that? It’s because they know it’s shite.”
A number of MPs and MSPs were in attendance at the demonstration, including the SNP’s Hannah Bardell, Jenny Gilruth, Joanna Cherry and Tommy Sheppard, Scottish Green MSP John Finnie, and Labour MSP Monica Lennon.
CPAG has recently seen a legal challenge to the policy dismissed by the High Court, which it is now seeking to appeal.
Pictures courtesy of Lauren Carter Allan
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