Rape victims who give birth to be forced to report their abuse or face losing child benefits

Women's charities condemn 'unacceptable' and 'deeply flawed' plans

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Indy Politics

Women may be forced to tell authorities if they have children conceived as a result of rape, under benefit changes that could see them lose money if they refuse.

Welfare cuts set to come into effect in April will restrict tax credits to a family’s first two children. This will not apply to children conceived after rape - but a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) minister has suggested victims will be forced to report their ordeal to professionals if they want to continue to receive financial support for their children.

Caroline Nokes MP, parliamentary under secretary of state at the DWP, told Parliament the Government believes “a third party evidence model offers the most promising approach”.

She said: “This is a model where a woman can request the exemption by engaging with a professional third party, such as a healthcare professional or a social worker.”

It means rape survivors would be forced to tell a professional about their attack or face the risk of their benefits being cut. Opponents say victims should not suffer financially if they choose not to recount their abuse.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid, told The Independent it was “vital that survivors of rape... know that the welfare system is there to support them when they need”. 

“It is unacceptable that the onus to prove a child is the result of a rape lies with the survivor. It shows a failure of understanding about the nature of domestic abuse and how women disclose rape,” she added.

Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, called the plans "deeply flawed".

She said: "Women who have been victimised by rape should not be under any coercion - financial or otherwise - to report to a statutory agency what has happened to them. To include this requirement in the benefits process is deeply flawed and reflects a lack of understanding around the impact of rape and the rights of women survivors and their children.”

Debbie Abrahams MP, shadow minister for work and pensions, told The Independent Labour would fight the plans. “For over a year now the Government have failed to adequately explain how they will develop protections for women who have a third child ‘as the result of rape, or other exceptional circumstances’”, she said.

“It is fundamentally wrong to include a rape clause in our social security system. This, and the wider impact of the two-child policy on the poorest again busts the myth of the Government’s support for families.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We have had to take difficult decisions to stabilise our economy and bring welfare spending under control. This reform ensures people on benefits have the same choices as those supporting themselves solely through work. But we have always been clear that exemptions will be in place, which is why we are consulting so they can be delivered in the most effective, compassionate way possible.”

The changes come as new statistics reveal a 123 per cent rise in the number of rapes reported in the last five years, with more than half of victims attacked by a partner or ex-partner.

The changes to tax credits were announced by then Chancellor George Osborne in his 2015 Budget as part of £12 billion of welfare cuts designed to help reduce the deficit. Mr Osborne said at the time: “These changes to tax credits are not easy, but they are fair”.