The Government has been accused of forcing victims of rape to endure further trauma after tax reforms came into force meaning women must “prove” they have been raped to receive child benefits.
The policy, which launched today, limits tax credits – worth up to £2,780 per year - to the first two children.
But it includes an exemption for any subsequent children born as a result of rape.
In order to be exempt in the so-called “rape clause”, however, the woman must prove to specially-hired professionals that she did not consent to sexual intercourse.
The policy was announced in the small print of the 2015 budget, sparking a wave of outcry and protests.
A campaign group – Scrap The Rape Clause – was set up and a petition calling on the Government to abandon the plans was signed by 10,000 people.
SNP MP Alison Thewliss, who led the campaign, wrote: “The idea of restricting child tax credit to two children, effectively implementing a two child policy, is bad enough.
I am utterly furious that Tories will make women who've had a child after being raped justify that for tax credits. pic.twitter.com/Ai4SKBOHaQ— Alison Thewliss (@alisonthewliss) July 8, 2015
“However, the idea that women should have to relive a painful and traumatic experience as rape to receive social security payments is not only deeply immoral but would be impossible for DWP staff to assess practically.”
And Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams called the policy “inhumane” and a “wholly unacceptable extension of the Department’s remit into deeply sensitive areas of women’s lives”.
Department of Work and Pensions Guidance states that the exemption applies for children “conceived as a result of a non-consensual sexual act (including rape), or at a time when the claimant was subject to ongoing control or coercion by the other parent of the child”.
The clause is no longer valid, however, if the woman is still living with the perpetrator or if she has already received compensation following a successful conviction.
#rapeclause Patriarchy rules ..... Women punished by judicial & benefit system . What happens to rapist ? 😡— Carp (@carp_pridham) April 6, 2017
A DWP spokesman told the Standard that alleged victims will not be asked about their experience by a member of staff from the benefits department.
He said that, in cases where victims have accessed support from third parties or charities, the DWP will be notified by said organisations and it will not be investigated.
But he was unable to explain how claims would be verified when made by a woman who had never accessed support or, indeed, told anyone about being raped.
More guidance on the issue is due to be published shortly but the model used is expected to be similar to the “third-party evidence” model used for domestic violence victims.
The department released a statement saying: “This exception is crucial to protect women who are faced with very difficult circumstances.
“This 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 it will be delivered in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right exceptions and safeguards are in place.”
“The policy was debated, and voted on, in Parliament, and the exceptions were consulted on widely.”