Government accused of using Trump inauguration to sneak out controversial tax credit ‘rape clause’

Women whose third child results from a rape will have to prove it in order to claim tax credits

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The Independent Online

Women whose third child is born following a sexual assault will be forced to provide evidence of the rape or face losing tax credits, under controversial plans quietly rolled out by the Government on the day Donald Trump was inaugurated.

The reforms, first announced by George Osborne, mean women will have to prove they became pregnant after suffering non-consensual sex if they want to receive tax credits for a third or subsequent child.  

MPs and women’s rights groups have reacted angrily to the plan, saying the so-called rape clause shows the Government has “a lack of understanding about sexual and domestic abuse”.  

In the summer Budget of 2015, the then Chancellor announced that families with more than two children would no longer be able to claim child tax credit on third and subsequent children. Those changes come into force in April.

The Government said some women should be exempt from the proposals, including those who have suffered rape, and ran a consultation on the measures. 

Responding to the findings, the Government said on Friday it was pressing ahead with the most controversial element of the plan – the requirement that women report their ordeal to a third party, such as a GP or social worker, before their tax credit claim is processed.

The proposal states: “Evidence from this professional third party, demonstrating that the claimant’s circumstances are consistent with those of a person who has had intercourse without consenting to it (at a time when the conception of her third or subsequent child might have resulted), will normally be used to determine eligibility for the exception.

“Thus women are not placed in the position of having to give details about the rape to DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] or HMRC [HM Revenue and Customs] officials and eligibility can be met without a conviction or any judicial finding.”

MP speaks out in Parliament about being raped as a teenager

There will be no time limit on when the report must be made and third or subsequent children conceived in controlling and coercive relationships will also be exempt, but not if the woman is still living with a partner who could financially benefit from the abuse.

The Government insisted the data would be treated as "extremely sensitive" and any documentation sent to claimants will not include the reason for the additional payments. 

But it comes after the DWP was accused of revealing a domestic violence victim’s identity to her abuser.

Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “We are profoundly disappointed to see the publication of these new rules which make entitlement to child tax credit dependent on proving rape.

“The obvious difficulty of requiring women to identify a child as a ‘product’ of rape, and then having a third party verify this claim, should have been enough to force a complete rethink of the whole policy proposal.

“It’s well-known that women are reluctant to disclose rape to anyone, for many reasons including fear and self-protection, guilt, shame and concern for the impact of the knowledge on other family members.

“Requiring disclosure to officialdom, in order to receive support for children, is asking women to trust and depend on someone they may prefer not to.

“The assurances of confidentiality and sensitivity have a hollow ring in a week the DWP was shown to have committed a serious data breach, putting the life of a domestic violence survivor at risk.”

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The so-called rape clause will be delivered in a ‘compasionate way’ (Alamy)

SNP MP Alison Thewliss said the ‘rape clause’ was “fundamentally wicked” and said the Government was trying to bury the information when the media was focusing on Mr Trump.

She said: “The UK Government clearly tried to sneak out this news just hours before Trump’s inauguration in the hope it would be buried amongst other anti-women headlines in America.

“That they wanted this callous policy to be buried speaks volumes in itself.

“Women across the world have been marching this weekend in solidarity with America whilst here in the UK, the Westminster Government ploughs ahead to undermine women’s rights.”

A Government spokeswoman said the reform “ensures people on benefits have to make the same choices as those supporting themselves solely through work. 

“But we have always been clear this reform will be delivered in the most effective, compassionate way and we have consulted to ensure the right exceptions and safeguards are in place.”

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