The two child cap, which limits eligibility for Child Tax Credit and the child element of Universal Credit to the first two children in a family, is one of the most cynical policies I have seen in my time as an MP. The idea of cutting financial support for children is bad enough, but there exists an extra punitive measure attached to it – the rape clause. Under this measure, a woman must prove to the DWP and HMRC that her child was conceived as a result of rape in order to receive Child Tax Credits for a third child.
Putting victims through the trauma of having to prove to the DWP that they were raped, just to receive Child Tax Credits, is utterly appalling. It is simply unacceptable to force women to relive one of the worst experiences of their lives, for the sake of claiming a benefit that they rely on to make ends meet. In Northern Ireland, women could face prosecution under the Criminal Law act simply for making a claim under the rape clause exemption.
At the time the policy was announced, the Chancellor said that parents receiving Child Tax Credits “should face the same financial choices about having children” as parents in work. This totally ignores the fact that people’s circumstances could change at any point. Through no fault of their own, a person could lose their job, a partner could fall ill or die, or they could have their hours at work reduced, therefore requiring the additional financial support offered by Child Tax Credit.
The Tories need to realise the devastating impact these cuts have had on struggling families, and urgently reverse them
The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that nearly one million three and four-child families will be worse off by thousands of pounds a year because of this cut. Families from ethnic minorities and those of religious faiths are disproportionately affected by this policy.
I have campaigned against the two child cap and its rape clause since it was first announced at the 2015 Budget. I’ve had cross-party support from MPs across the House of Commons – including SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, Plaid Cymru and even some Conservative and DUP MPs – as well as the support of the Scottish Government, COSLA, the BMA and RCN, women’s groups, charities and trade unions.
We have just passed the two year anniversary of one of the UK government’s most shameful acts of the last Parliament - the passage of the Welfare Reform and Work Act. It has implemented punitive cuts to social security in the guise of welfare ‘reform’ and along with SNP colleagues we will be marking the anniversary this week by highlighting just how dangerous these reforms are and the misery they bring to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. A long list of social security cuts were introduced: the Benefit Cap, the Benefit Freeze and the cut to Employment Support Allowance, among others. But the most abhorrent of all is perhaps the two child cap on Child Tax Credits and the rape clause which comes with it.
Condemnation of the rape clause is growing. We must not let the UK Government forget that they are responsible for this policy, which will push hundreds of thousands of children into poverty. The Tories need to realise the devastating impact these cuts have had on struggling families, and urgently reverse them.
Alison Thewliss is the SNP MP for Glasgow Central