Women's rights groups support call to drop "repugnant" rape clause

As the UK’s largest civil service union condemns UK welfare reform, women's rights groups signal their opposition 

LEADING advocacy and support groups for the rights of women in Scotland have expressed their concern at the direction of welfare reform pursued by the UK Government.

Rape Crisis Scotland, Engender and Scottish Women's Aid have supported the call by the SNP and the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) stating that the UK Government should rethink the "irresponsible and morally repugnant" rape clause.

In comments to CommonSpace, the groups stated that they remain firmly opposed to the government’s tax credit cuts and that the two child policy and rape clauses should be abandoned as they reduce the chances of justice while adding to survivors’ trauma.

"Rape Crisis Scotland supports fully suggestions this ill-conceived clause be scrapped, and hopes to see it abandoned at the earliest opportunity." Eileen Maitland

Eileen Maitland, information & resource worker, Rape Crisis Scotland, said: "Rape remains a devastating crime which many survivors are still very reluctant to report. This can prevent them receiving much needed support, or the chance of justice for the crimes perpetrated upon them. 

"To further compound this by expecting survivors to disclose what has happened to them to government officials as part of the benefits process is both irresponsible and morally repugnant. 

"Rape Crisis Scotland supports fully suggestions this ill-conceived clause be scrapped, and hopes to see it abandoned at the earliest opportunity."

As part of former chancellor George Osborne’s drive to cut £12bn from the annual welfare bill, last year’s budget included an announcement that child tax credits would only be paid for the first two children in each family, from April next year. 

However, the government controversially stated that it had made an exception for children conceived through rape, but it has yet to say what precise function and policies it will put in place to process this exemption.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, wrote a letter to SNP MP Alison Thewliss in which he said: "Many PCS members rely on these benefits to make ends meet and so we expect that some of our members will be caught up in the two child policy."

Referring to the interviews women would have to go through as part of enacting the rape clause, he said: "We do not think anyone should have to conduct such an interview and we want the policy to be abandoned."

"This is ethically unjustifiable, and a violation of  human rights under the United Nations Convention to End Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)." Dr Marsha Scott

Emma Ritch, director of Engender, said: The UK's programme of so-called ‘welfare reform’ will be profoundly harmful to women and women's equality. A failure to properly consider the gender impact has resulted in a package of measures that will disproportionately impoverish and immiserate women, especially disabled women and single mothers. 

"The "rape clause" is particularly eye-wateringly egregious. Despite persistent, diligent work by Alison Thewliss MP and colleagues, the UK Government has never explained how this will work in practice. 

"Engender is part of a long list of women's, human rights, trade union, and anti-poverty organisations that are aghast at the inhumanity of forcing women to disclose that children have been conceived as a result of rape. 

"We join the calls on the UK Government to reconsider this monstrous proposal." 

"Engender is part of a long list of women's, human rights, trade union, and anti-poverty organisations that are aghast at the inhumanity of forcing women to disclose that children have been conceived as a result of rape." Emma Ritch

Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, commented: "Subjecting a woman who has been raped to the distress of having to relay that traumatic experience to a government official in order to receive benefits is tantamount to cruelty.

"We share the horror expressed by our sister organisations and would join with PCS and all those who call for this clause to be scrapped immediately. 

"This is ethically unjustifiable, and a violation of  human rights under the United Nations Convention to End Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)."

SNP MP, Alison Thewliss, who represents Glasgow Central, first drew attention to the policy during the summer budget of July 2015 and has called upon Lord Freud, the UK Government’s welfare reform minister, not to "ride roughshod" over civil servants’ wishes.

Thewliss went on to say in her statement: "PCS union’s intervention should serve as a major warning to the Government that they cannot ride roughshod over the wishes of UK civil servants.
 
"The fact remains that the introduction of a rape clause and two child policy would put civil servants in an incredibly awkward position, almost certainly having to ask intrusive and deeply personal questions of vulnerable women, who have been raped and subject to sexual violence. That simply is not on.
 
"Like me, PCS have repeatedly raised these concerns with the DWP and no answers have been forthcoming about how this can be handled. And the reason no answers are forthcoming is because it’s an unworkable, immoral and abhorrent policy.
 
"Lord Freud and the DWP should listen to, and respect, the wishes of PCS and its members and abandon this offensive and damaging policy agenda without delay."

In a letter to Thewliss in May of this year, the UN said that her letter to it referring to the reforms had been brought to the attention of the UN committee, as it monitors how the UK complies with the convention on the rights of the child. The SNP is particularly concerned that women whose third child is conceived after rape will have to offer proof of the crime in order to qualify for an exemption to the two-child tax credit rule.

Figures cited by Glasgow Rape Crisis show that a majority of rapes still go unreported and the conviction rate is still low with 97 per cent of rape cases not resulting in conviction.

Picture courtesy of Women's Enews

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