Employment Minister Alok Sharma was told the so-called rape clause policy is “an abomination” after Government claims it sees women get “double support”.
Labour’s Kezia Dugdale confronted Sharma on the BBC Daily Politics, holding up the documents rape victims may be forced to fill out to secure Tax Credits or Universal Credit under the hated two-child benefit cap.
The rule, introduced a year ago, stipulates families can claim child benefits for their first two children only. Parents can only access benefits for a third in special circumstances, including if they disclose they were raped.
Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey drew widespread ire for suggesting the policy ensured rape victims got “double support” - meaning they got both the money and “the opportunity to talk”.
Speaking on the BBC Daily Politics, Sharma attempted to defend his colleague by saying the policy dealt with the issue “sensitively”.
Former Scottish Labour leader Dugdale hit back, however, and raised the case of a rape victim pregnant with her third child who had contacted her to say she policy would have seen her contemplate suicide.
“You don’t understand the shame and the stigma associated with rape,” Dugdale told Sharma, holding up the form to him.
“The whole process of asking a woman to declare that she has been raped on a form to receive the tax credits that she was previously entitled to isn’t sensitive, it’s an abomination.
She went on: “I don’t think you’ve seen this form because on page 5, you have to write the name of the child, the child that was conceived because their mother was raped.
“And then the mother has to sign it.”
Turning to Sharma, she questioned: “This, in your view, is sensitive.”
Sharma said: “What is absolutely clear is that we need to approach this issue with great sensitively.
“The individuals that we are talking about have been through a great deal of pain and suffering and we need to make sure we do that sensitively.
“And what Esther McVey, the Secretary of State, was saying yesterday was that we need to provide support, I don’t think anyone should disagree with that and additionally that we need to do this sensitively.”
When asked about the two-child policy, McVey had 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.”
Her comments before Holyrood’s Social Security Commission were called “jaw-dropping” by the SNP and “simply skin-crawling” by Labour.
The committee chairwoman had to twice suspend proceedings because the public gallery had begun heckling McVey.
SNP MP for Glasgow Central Alison Thewliss, meanwhile, has called for an urgent meeting with McVey about her comment.
Thewliss said: “I didn’t think the Tory government could sink any lower on this issue, but they have once again outdone themselves.
“The Secretary of State is completely out of step with how damaging the two child limit is, and she demonstrated as much with her performance at yesterday’s committee hearing.
“Charities and agencies are lining up to tell the government how reckless this policy is, that it will push 200,000 children below the poverty line, and that women claiming tax credits for a third child conceived due to rape will have to prove the point during an interview, yet no one wants to listen. This behaviour is inhumane, it is unforgivable.
“Esther McVey is simply wrong about the rape clause. No woman should be forced to relive the experience of rape simply in order to qualify for tax credits. To endorse the existing process as in some way beneficial to the claimant is simply staggering.
“The issue of rape is an incredibly sensitive one, and it is not being treated as such by this Tory government. The very fact that women’s aid organisations in Scotland are refusing to act as third-party referrers should be ringing serious alarm bells about the policy’s viability.”
Sharma told the BBC programme women can disclose that their pregnancy was the result of a rape “on a very simple form” to either their GP or a trusted third party.
“It’s really important that we deal with it sensitively and that’s what this policy is there for,” said Sharma.
Dugdale called this “nonsense” and said the policy punishes women and that wealthy people should be asked to pay more taxes.
“I don’t accept that there should be a cap, first and foremost,” she said. “The way to get rid of this is to end the two-child cap. It’s very simple.
“Why is it that women who have been raped have to pay the price of austerity rather than ask those among the richest people in society to pay more taxes?
“You are passing on the cost by denying them any of the benefits, and making them fill out this form in the process.