Stewart Dickson: Rape Clause a Consequence of Failure
"Two weeks ago, without any debate or vote in Westminster, an amendment was added to an existing law. The amendment dubbed the “rape clause” means that from today (Thursday), new mothers will have to verify if they have been raped if they wish to claim tax credits for more than two children.
"The policy will come into force on 6 April. It will restrict tax credit entitlement for new claimants to a maximum of two children. There will be a small number of exceptions to the restriction. One exemption being women who can show their third or subsequent child were conceived as a result of rape.
"And this is the problem. Women will be forced to prove that their third or subsequent child was conceived through rape to access child tax credits. The rape clause will traumatise women further.
"The Government, in asking women to prove they have been raped, does not account for the lack of training of the people who will judge whether someone claiming the exemption has been raped. The trauma of forcing women to recount their rapes before they are ready to speak on them, and the realities of rape mainly being in the homes, and within relationships, making disclosures very difficult.
"Despite all the recent political disagreements in Northern Ireland surely we can at least agree that the rape clause is bad. That we should do all in our power to oppose it. Moreover, caring for vulnerable women should be the top of our priority list.
"The Government, in their poorly planned exemption for women who have been raped, did not consider Northern Ireland specific issues. Without an Executive, Northern Ireland cannot adequately advocate for these women.
"The first issue, as highlighted by Women’s Aid NI, is that all disclosures of serious crimes must be reported to the police in Northern Ireland. This is a ‘throw back’ to the Troubles and does not exist in the rest of the UK. Therefore the organisation or support service, to which a Northern Irish woman disclosing a rape where the perpetrator is identifiable, are legally obligated to tell the police. Women who do not find themselves in a position to go to the police, should not then be forced to do so simply to access welfare for their children.
"The second issue is that Northern Ireland is a small community. If women are forced to disclose their rape, it may be especially difficult to protect women and children from being identified as rape victims, and children of rape, in Northern Ireland. This is again something that has not be considered by the British Government.
"This clause is a bad clause for women. Furthermore, it is an exceptionally bad one for women in Northern Ireland. This is one example of the urgent necessity for the Executive to be reformed. Clearly the DUP, UUP and SDLP MPs in Westminster are not up to the task of protecting women in Northern Ireland. We need an Executive to highlight to the Government in Westminster the dangers in the capping of child tax credits at two children in Northern Ireland for victims of rape." - Stewart Dickson
"I have written to the Department for Work and Pensions emphasising this regulation will serve to re-traumatise many women who have been through an already horrific experience," - South Belfast Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw