This article titled “Rape exemption clause for tax credits ‘in chaos’, says MP Alison Thewliss” was written by Peter Walker Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Friday 3rd March 2017 17.49 UTC
The government’s plan to exempt women from a two-child limit for claiming tax credits if they have been raped are in “absolute chaos”, a leading opponent has argued, with no system in place for the scheme just weeks before it begins.
The proposal to restrict tax credit entitlement for any new claimants to a maximum of two children was announced in 2015 budget by the then chancellor, George Osborne. It included exceptions for multiple births, and also for women who could show their third or subsequent child was conceived because of rape.
Alison Thewliss, the SNP MP who first highlighted the so-called rape clause and has since campaigned against it, said that with the measure scheduled to come into force in April, ministers still seemed to have no idea how women could actually claim the exemption.
A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) consultation last year said the determination of whether a rape had happened would be placed with a “professional third party”, which could include health workers, police, social workers or rape charities.
However, a series of parliamentary questions by Thewliss found no sign of any of these groups being given training on how the system will be run. Philip Dunne, the junior health minister, said his department was not involved in the scheme.
Thewliss said that when the system begins, women who had been raped and wished to claim the exemption from the tax credit cap would have no idea where to go.
“It’s absolute chaos. And it’s very vulnerable women who are at risk as a result of this,” she said. “From the budget in 2015, when it was announced, they’ve had nearly two years and they still don’t know how this policy is going to operate.”
It was hard to see how the system could operate at all without medical staff being trained, Thewliss said.
“The Department of health have bumped it back to the DWP, saying, ‘It’s nothing to do with us,’” she said. “But to say some has had a third child in circumstances that point towards rape, that indicates having some kind of medical evidence.”
The Glasgow Central MP said that with almost 120,000 police officers and nearly 19,000 adult social workers in England alone, the scale of any training regime was potentially enormous.
It was, she said, deeply worrying that women affected did not know who to turn to. “I’m absolutely shocked by the complacency the government has around this issue,” she said.
“In other circumstances, where I’ve asked questions of ministers and others in charge of this policy, they just don’t seem to understand how it’s going to operate at all. And they’ve had almost two years to figure this out.”
The plan has caused concern among other MPs, and women’s charities, with a number calling for it to be dropped. But the DWP announced in January that it was to go ahead after the consultation.
A DWP spokesman said the changes to tax credits were “a key part of controlling public spending”. He added: “We will be laying regulations before parliament shortly, to ensure the right exceptions and safeguards are in place and the changes are delivered in the most effective, compassionate way.”
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