In March, a controversial proposal became law without any debate or vote in the UK Parliament. It requests new mothers who are rape survivors for verification if they wish to claim tax credits for more than two children.
The 6th of April marked an important, albeit shameful date in the political and social calendar. It marked the date when the new change to child tax credit policy came into effect. What change? The one which says any child, the third in the family, born after the 6th April 2017, will not eligible for child tax credit for that family. It also saw the coming into effect of the ‘rape clause’.
The regulations, announced in the 2015 Budget by the then-Chancellor, George Osborne, were put into law through a statutory instrument, a form of legislation that allows laws to be amended without parliament’s approval. The policy implemented on 6 April restricts tax credit entitlement for new claimants to a maximum of two children, with exceptions for multiple births – and for women who could show that their third or subsequent child was conceived as a result of rape.
Those seeking to claim the exemption for rape must be assessed by what the British government has described in a consultation as a “professional third party”, which could include health workers, police, social workers or rape charities.
The Department for Work and Pensions has described the changes to tax credits as “a key part of controlling public spending”, and has pledged to implement the exemptions in “the most effective, compassionate way”.
Controlling public spending. This is an ideological battle of finance, a promulgation of the lazy stereotype that the poor claim hard-earned taxpayers’ money. It is not about consideration of all citizens. This is not about compassion.Moreover
It is wrong that the British government’s reforms of child tax credit target women and families from socio-deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds.
How many families might be thrust into poverty because of this? Policy in Practice recently published a paper which estimates child poverty could be driven up by 10% by 2020. You see, families receiving child tax credit are using it to bring up their children, to assist them in times of ever-increasing cost of living. It is not, and never has been, about receiving ‘freebies’. It is not, and never has been, about incentives to keep giving birth and claim state handouts.
Try as I might, I cannot forget the week beginning 3rd April, and the implementation of these reforms. These reforms are essentially an attack on women and single mothers. If you oversee a family of more than two children, and you struggle to make ends meet, this government will punish you for having that third child. If you are a woman with a struggling family, or a single mother with a struggling family, the government is telling you it shall not assist you with your children, because you dared to have three. You are too poor to have more than two children, whereas your middle class peer is welcome to have three children.
A man might have multiple children with multiple partners, and he shall not suffer the consequence of these reforms. Women, who comprise the majority of primary -givers, will feel the repercussions of this policy.
This is punishing poorer women. This is punishing children. Child poverty could increase by 10% within three years as a consequence of these reforms, but the government does not care. It does not want to assist the less well-off in society, despite evidence illustrating that investing in early years and children pays off. Lifting children and families out of poverty increases their future prospects – health, education, self-esteem, well-being, mental health. This government talks abut looking after the JAMs, the Just About Managing, but apparently only so far as they do not have more than two children.
Moreover…It is reprehensible that the British government’s reforms of child tax credit include making women prove their third child was the result of rape.
It is degrading and wrong to expect rape survivors to recount their ordeal. It is heartbreaking that such a callous policy was ever mentioned, let alone implemented by the British government. This ‘rape clause’ might open women to re-traumatisation; it takes no account of their dignity and humanity but cares only about finances.
Imagine being a survivor of rape. Imagine discovering you are pregnant. Imagine making that difficult decision to keep the baby. Imagine opening a form, just to see you are expected to sign a little box which says your third child was the result of ‘non-consensual conception’ – a jumble of policy-speak, lacking empathy and understanding of your painful circumstances.
But then again, this is just an exercise in curtailing excessive public spending. The British government is going about this exercise in the most compassionate way.