We have previously highlighted the problems with the UK government’s decision to impose a 2 child cap on child tax credits that came into effect on the 6th April this year. This cap will also apply to Universal Credit once families start moving over on to this benefit. An exemption created for children conceived as a result of rape or coercion called the ‘rape clause’ has caused even more outrage than the cap itself given how badly it will affect women who have experienced sexual violence. WRDA has been working hard alongside Women’s Aid and other women’s organisations to raise awareness of these changes and to fight them due to the impact they will have on child poverty, the risk posed to women experiencing domestic abuse and the fact that they interfere with women’s rights and equality.
Very recently, political efforts to fight the 2 child cap and the rape clause in Westminster have centred on the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland. There is a piece of legislation here that came about as a result of the conflict, which requires anyone with knowledge of a serious crime having been committed to report this to the authorities. While the rape clause is supposed to allow for women to share information about their rape to a 3rd party assessor in order to qualify for the benefit, we have been highlighting for months that in Northern Ireland this means those benefits assessors would be breaking the law themselves if they do not report this information to the police. Now the Labour party has picked up on this detail and has been challenging the government very strongly to ensure that the measure is given more scrutiny. Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith and shadow Welfare Secretary Debbie Abraham wrote to the Secretary of State James Brokenshire about the issues raised by this unique legal duty and also criticised the way the new measures were brought in here:
“This measure is being introduced in the absence of a functioning executive in Northern Ireland … To impose such changes from Westminster, especially through the back door of a statutory instrument without scrutiny even by committee, is completely at odds with principles of the devolution settlement as agreed under the Good Friday agreement and subsequent agreements, including Fresh Start.” (as reported in the Guardian, 23/7/17)
This is the latest in a series of issues at Westminster which put Northern Ireland firmly in the spotlight. The Labour Party, like us, want to see the whole policy of capping benefits at 2 children overturned throughout the UK. Due to the balance of power being held by the DUP it is useful for the Labour party therefore to focus on the problems with implementing it in Northern Ireland, especially given that in the previous parliament all DUP MPs signed an Early Day Motion in opposition to the rape clause. Regardless of the politics of this situation, it provides an excellent opportunity for us to urge our representatives at Westminster to stand strong in defending low income families, women and children. Please take a few minutes and write to your MP asking them to fight these welfare cuts that only seek to punish women and make financial savings off the backs of the most vulnerable.
e.g. ‘I am opposed to the introduction of a 2 child cap on tax credits and Universal Credit and the flawed and unworkable rape exemption. Thank you for opposing these measures in the past and for speaking up on behalf of the women and children who will be affected. As your constituent I am asking you to support the call for a full debate and vote in the House of Commons and to continue to work for the repeal of both the rape clause and the 2 child cap.’
If you would like to send your MP more information you can refer them to this document that we produced with the Women’s Policy Group setting out all the key problems with this welfare policy: http://www.womensaidni.org/assets/uploads/2017/05/opposing-the-two-child-cap-and-rape-clause.pdf
Don’t forget that there will be a day of action against the 2 child cap and rape clause involving public protest on the 21st September. The protest will be held outside Causeway Exchange on Bedford Street from 1 – 2pm.