It’s very welcome news that Amber Rudd has decided to reverse the extension of the two child limit to children born before April 2017, but the entire policy still needs to be scrapped. It would be entirely unfair and arbitrary to have a two-tier system where some families receive payment for a third child and others don’t, depending on when that child was born.
Since July 2015, I have been campaigning for an end to this pernicious policy, after discovering details of the two child policy buried in the back of George Osborne’s Budget paper. A sentence caught my eye: “the Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC will develop protections for women who have a third child as the result of rape, or other exceptional circumstances.”
When a government has to write a rape clause into the social security system, a system which is supposed to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable people in our society, something has gone very badly wrong. The two child policy and the rape clause are not justifiable policies for a government which claims to support families.
There is no sensitive and de-stigmatising way to have to disclose that a child was conceived by rape. Having to recount abuse to a total stranger, potentially multiple times across agencies, just to be able to put food on the table for your kids, is not a symptom of a protective welfare system.
It has been a long slog to get to the stage where the UK Government are conceding that there are problems with the policy. Even now, after Amber Rudd’s announcement, families with a third child born after April 2017 will still be affected by the rape clause, along with other problematic elements of the policy.
For instance, the two child policy would never have passed any sort of equality impact assessment, if one had ever been conducted. It is discriminatory at its core. Religious minorities which have a contentious objection to abortion or contraception have been disproportionately affected, breaching Articles 9 & 14 of ECHR. The limit also disproportionately affects women, who are most often the primary caregivers in families.
The policy also creates bleak choices for women who are victims of abusive relationships - to leave an abuser would represent a ‘change of circumstances’, which would activate the two child limit, even if children are born before April 2017. Restricting a woman’s family income at this potentially volatile stage in her life substantially reduces the safety net available. It has also been suggested by women’s charity Refuge that the policy exacerbates the control that an abuser has over his victim.
The benefits charity Turn2Us has also reported that women are now terminating pregnancies as a result of the two child cap. Horrifically, anecdotal evidence suggests that this is not always a choice, and some women are being made to do so by abusers who are aware that they will not receive any extra money for that child.
Only 7% of families in the UK have more than two children. This policy does not justify the ‘cost-saving’ benefits espoused by the Treasury. It has a hugely damaging impact on families but would realistically trouble the Treasury’s finances very little.
The fight to scrap the two child limit is far from over - even if it is moving in the right direction. Amber Rudd is taking time to consider what she needs to do to fix the two child policy. My message to her is that there is no amount of tweaking that will fix it - it’s fundamentally flawed. She needs to do the right thing for all families, and scrap it for good.
Alison Thewliss is the SNP for Glasgow Central