Tory minister Esther McVey has been called “disgraceful” for suggesting the controversial ‘rape clause’ rule benefits women.
The Work and Pensions Secretary was defending the controversial two-child benefit cap policy in front of Holyrood’s Social Security Committee on Monday.
McVey told the Scottish Parliament the policy offers rape victims “double support” - money and “an opportunity to talk” about the assault.
Under the rule, families can claim child Tax Credits or Universal Credit for their first two children only. Parents can only access benefits for a third in special circumstances, including if they disclose they were raped.
McVey’s comments came during a tense session in which the committee chairwoman twice had to suspend proceedings due to heckles from the public gallery.
When asked about the two-child policy, McVey told MSPs:
“People will be supported and shown to the various other organisations - and again this could give them an opportunity to talk about maybe something that’s happened that they never had before.
“So, it’s potentially double support there - they’re getting the money they need and maybe an outlet they might possibly need.”
Women’s charities are attempting to get “rape clause” rule overturned, with many calling it “degrading” and “inhumane”.
The SNP called McVey’s comments “jaw-dropping” while Labour said they were “simply skin-crawling.”
The minister was also asked about benefit sanctions and Universal Credit, at which point the public gallery erupted and shouts of claimants who have taken their own lives were called out.
Labour and SNP MSPs have spoken of their alarm at McVey’s answers.
SNP MSP George Adam said of the two-child policy answers: “This was a jaw-dropping comment – the Tories clearly aren’t listening to the absolute outrage this despicable policy is causing, or the stark warnings about its impact.
“It’s time the Tories saw sense and scrapped their two-child policy and the rape clause.”
Labour MSP Pauline McNeill called on the Tories to abolish the two-child policy, adding: “This was a disgraceful performance from a Work and Pensions Secretary who is completely out of touch with the reality of life for low income women on tax credits.
“To badge up the vile rape clause as some sort of virtuous policy to provide support is simply skin-crawling.
“The rape clause is a policy created by the Tory government’s ideological obsession to deliver tax cuts for the richest and big business paid for by cutting support for the poorest.”
Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, added: “Esther McVey has completely failed to address the very serious issue of woman being forced to reveal a profoundly traumatic experience to access a benefit.
“To suggest this might offer a woman ‘an outlet’ to discuss what has happened shows a lack of sensitivity and awareness of a woman’s feelings about such a violent and appalling crime.
“Forcing a burden of proof upon survivors of rape is morally wrong. Esther McVey should retract her comments and issue an apology.
“Labour will scrap the ‘rape clause’ and transform the social security system so it is there for all those who need it.”
During the Scottish Parliament session, the SNP’s George Adam also pressed the minister on a constituent of his who had been sanctioned when he was suffering from a heart attack.
“In my constituency, I’ve got people who’ve been suffering constantly because of the roll-out,” he said. “We’re not even a full roll-out area.
“What about people like my constituent, who ended up getting sanctioned because he had a heart attack and was in the Royal Alexandra Hospital?”
SNP MSP Ben MacPherson also said that he’d met constituents in tears due to DWP cuts and challenged McVey to apologise to those affected, which she refused.
Speaking after the session, Adam said: “That was like speaking to a brick wall – despite the overwhelming evidence of the negative impact of the Tory welfare agenda, Esther McVey just insisted that all was well.”
Sixty Church of England bishops along with leaders of other religious groups, have urged ministers to rethink the two-child benefits cap.
In a letter to the Times, they said the policy is likely to tip an extra 200,000 children into poverty.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “We’re ensuring women in these awful circumstances are supported in every way so they can receive the help that they need.
“We have always been clear that this policy will be delivered in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right exceptions and safeguards in place.”