Theresa May was forced to defend a senior Tory’s “disgraceful” claim the so-called ‘rape clause’ system offered women access to “double support”.
During a tense Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament, the SNP’s Ian Blackford asked if May agreed with Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey about the Government’s controversial two-child cap policy.
The two-child policy, introduced a year ago, limits Tax Credits or Universal Credit to two children. Parents can only access support for a third child in special circumstances, including if the child is the result of a sexual assault.
Holding aloft the documents victims must sign, Blackford told the PM: “Rape Crisis Scotland have been clear, hinging benefits on proving trauma is not a choice, it is a disgrace, and one which may well retraumatise the women involved.
“The chair of the British Medical Association in Scotland has said it is fundamentally damaging for women. Forcing them to disclose rape and abuse in a time and in a manner not of their choosing at pain of financial penalty.
“Mr Speaker, this is the form with a box for the child’s name. What kind of society do we live in?”
May said the issue was being treated “sensitively” and rape victims would not be asked to confide in a Government worker in order to access their benefit.
It is the second time an opposition politician has confronted a member of the Government with the document in the wake of the row. Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale told Employment Minister Alok Sharma the policy was a “disgrace” and “an abomination” when she appeared on the BBC Daily Politics Show.
Thursday marks one year since the policy was introduced, with a march planned by protesters in Edinburgh.
When asked about the two-child policy at the hearing in Holyrood, 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.”
May told Blackford she recognised the “sensitivities involved” for mothers, adding: “We have taken considerable time and care to set up procedures, following extensive consultations, that will mean that no Government staff will question these mothers about what they have experienced.
“The point [Esther McVey] was making was that the mother will be granted the exemption through engaging with specialist professionals like health and social workers who may be able to provide them with support in those circumstances above and beyond the issue of their entitlement.”