“Skin crawling” comments crank up the tension over controversial “rape clause.”

Who would be a politician? You can set out with the best of intentions, only to have your words twisted and be represented as some sort of callous monster across the front pages of the tabloid press.

Of course, some politicians really don’t do themselves any favours. You would think one of the things they would be taught is to put brain in gear before engaging mouth, but that’s a tip that Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey, has yet to fully master. Speaking at the Scottish Parliament’s social security committee, she jumped in feet first, describing the government’s controversial “rape clause” for child support tax credits as “an opportunity” for victims of sexual assault.

Let’s take a step back and unpick what happened.

What is the “rape clause?”

It sounds unedifying, and it is clearly dangerous political ground on which to walk. The whole storm has blown up over the government cap on the number of children for which a parent can claim child support tax credits, which was introduced in April 2017. This states that support will be limited to two children, and that additional children born thereafter are not eligible.

There are, however, exemptions. If you already have one child and then give birth to twins or more, then all the children in that multiple birth are eligible. The other exception is if the child or children were conceived as a result of rape or coercion. If the whole topic of some children being eligible for financial support while others are not was giving you an uncomfortable feeling, these exemptions, far from helping, only take us further down the rabbit hole. Of course, the benefits office always wants proof of everything. Does this mean women will have to relive past traumas in order to submit a paltry claim? What if they don’t want to? Or perhaps they have never discussed it till now?

McVey’s comments

Challenged with these questions, Esther McVey’s response was shocking in its insensitivity. She said providing a declaration to the benefits office would provide “an opportunity to talk about” what had happened and so the new system actually “is potentially double support … getting the money they need and maybe an outlet which they might possibly need.” Labour MSP Pauline McNeill was almost lost for words. She described McVey’s comments as “disgraceful” and said: “To badge up the vile rape clause as some sort of virtuous policy to provide support is simply skin-crawling. The Tories should abolish the rape clause.” A number of non-political support organisations in Scotland were quick to echo McNeill’s sentiments. A representative from Scottish Women’s Aid said the policy: “is not compassionate, nor can it ever be made to be so.”

Another poorly conceived policy

This is yet another example of a government policy that seeks to economise on public spending by penalising those who can least afford it. The notion of treating a third or fourth child differently to a first or second will not sit well with most of us, and the rape clause comes across as an act of giving, begrudgingly and under the cruellest of circumstances, but only after taking a whole lot more.

If your head is spinning as you try to assess what financial support and benefits might or might not be available to you, we are always happy to provide support at Hylton Potts. Feel free to get in touch for an informal and confidential chat. You can ring us on 020 7381 8111, or email us at law@hylton-potts.com.

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