Liberal Democrats should campaign against benefits “rape clause”

George Osborne’s decision not to impose the cuts to tax credits may be welcome but in many cases is only putting off the agony. As research from the Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows, working families with children still stand to lose more than £1300 a year, more than £100 every month. Nick Clegg spelled this out when he was in Oldham campaigning for Jane Brophy this week:

He’s just delaying it by smuggling the cuts into Universal Credit. I think we played an important role and a leading role in firstly, identifying the problem and then opposing it unambiguously.

I wasn’t (surprised at the decision). But they’re doing half a beastly thing instead of a beastly thing.

Actually, it’s more of a beastly thing than that. The cap on the childcare element at 2 children remains and, with it, an issue which was first highlighted by SNP MP Alison Thewliss back in July. There is a rather sinister devil in the detail which has not been removed by the Autumn Statement, the so-called “rape clause.”

This says:

the Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC will develop protections for women who have a third child as a result of rape or other exceptional circumstances

Someone sitting in an office in Whitehall has actually thought this, written it down and others have presumably thought it was practical enough to include. I actually despair.

So, how exactly is a woman supposed to prove that she has been raped, given that conviction rates are so low? Alison Thewliss has repeatedly questioned the Chancellor on how exactly this will be implemented, most recently after the Autumn Statement on Wednesday. Osborne replied:

As part of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, we will come forward with the results of the work and consultations that we have undertaken on the issue she raises about rape and violence.

Former Director of Public Prosecutions and now Labour MP Keir Starmer wrote for the Guardian about how wrong this was:

This proposal is chilling. It is well recognised that the vast majority of women subjected to rape are unlikely ever to come forward and report to the authorities what has happened to them. Under-reporting of rape has been running at 80%-90% for years. Does the chancellor seriously think that women, who find the prospect of reporting a rape to the police so horrendous that they would rather remain silent, will come forward and disclose it to the DWP? That proposition only needs to be stated to be seen to be absurd; and the government’s distorted thinking does not end there.

Are women really expected to identify their third-born as conceived during rape to avoid losing their tax credits: something most, if not all, would find wholly anathema?

George Osborne might have tried to show he was on women’s side by announcing that the proceeds of the so-called Tampon Tax would be directed towards women’s health charities, a move widely greeted with derision, but his continued insistence on this rape clause, which he has had every opportunity to withdraw, shows a serious lack of judgement. As Alison Thewliss said in July:

What happens if it becomes known in the local community that a woman is receiving tax credits for a third child? What assumptions will be made about that woman and her children? It’s a complete abuse of her privacy.

As we focus on the annual international 16 days of action against violence against women, Liberal Democrats  should robustly resist this requirement that a woman should have to prove rape to access basic benefits. I actually think that a cap on benefits based on the number of children you have is an iniquitous, judgemental and unacceptable provision anyway and we should lose  the whole thing, but the rape clause must, as an absolute minimum, be withdrawn.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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22 Comments

  • Well said, Caron. This whole business reeks of mid Victorian utilitarianism, and as Keir Starmer says, is quite chilling. I hope our parliamentarians can have a real go against this even at this late stage..

  • Hear hear

  • I didn’t even know about this until reading here. It’s disgraceful to incentivise women to claim they were raped.
    The reason I say ‘claim’ is because I’d like to add the impact it will have on the (at least perception of) false accusation rate to the discussion. It isn’t right to tie treatment of victims to the punishment of the accused. When we do that, we guarantee that no matter what, someone is facing injustice. There is no solution in this tory methodology, but then that’s hardly surprising.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 29th Nov '15 - 12:09pm

    Matthew, just to be clear, false claims of rape are very, very rare. The issue is expecting a woman who has been raped to have to prove it to access benefits.

  • Adam Bernard 29th Nov '15 - 12:21pm

    The whole sex-negativity of this is reprehensible. The child of a woman who conceives out of choice, or through a failure of contraception is penalised. The whole message of the “rape clause” is that there are the deserving and the undeserving pregnant; people who are not wealthy are expected either to abstain from sex or to have abortions.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Nov '15 - 1:04pm

    Because of conviction rates being so low I think the rape clause should go, but the days of high levels of benefits are over and any party trying to bring them back will not get elected into parliament in any great numbers.

    The SNP have done so, but I think it is because they don’t want to pay for them.

  • Imagine you are George Osborne and you read this article. What is your response? How will you do things differently next time?

    If I were him I’d make sure I didn’t get attacked like this again by not giving extra funding to women’s charities. If you don’t give anything there’s nothing to attack.

    If I were him I’d make sure there was no exception in the case of rape, your tax credits are just cut. If no exception is granted there’s no exception to attack.

    End result? A budget that’s worse for women but harder to get angry about.

    I worry that we seem to be attacking him for doing something that is beneficial. Yes, it’s quite right to be angry that he’s being so tokenistic and offensive. But we need to make it clear that *that* is the target of our anger, not giving money to women’s charities or giving more benefits to rape survivors.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 29th Nov '15 - 4:48pm

    @Jedi, Osborne has said he’ll try and work with European countries to get rid of it but that is a bit of a work in progress. I won’t be holding my breath.

  • Matt (Bristol) 29th Nov '15 - 8:22pm

    Adam Casey – I’m going to stick my neck out and say I would much rather, to be honest, live in a world where if there had to be a cap it was a consistent cap, than one where its cruelty and arbitrariness was exacerbated by additional social division.

    There are in my experience already too many low-income families where who is ‘deserving’ of what benefits / credits is an ongoing source of conflict and resentment, often based on ignorance of the benefit rules themselves. More petty rules is not the solution.

    Not to mention in any case that establishing a bureaucratic mechanism for the explicit legal identification and ongoing labelling of children conceived in rape is deeply distasteful and worrying for the development child growing up in such circumstances.

  • The rape clause is ridiculous, no question.

    Not providing encouragement, in situations where there is a lack of affordability to decently raise additional children, is no bad thing. I am however quite certain there are many individual heartbreaking circumstances in this whole area.

    It may be a stretch but we are, with climate change and greater shortages of basic resources likely to put ever greater pressure on states and populations around the world, nearing the point of having to address population growth and movement.

    This action to restrict benefits is inadequate in making a dent on the question of population, but climate and basic food and resource security mean that this or similar improved measure along with many more are needed to signal the wider need for change!

    How is the party doing on the big questions?

  • @ Jedi – AIUI Labour moved tampons DOWN from the main rate of VAT (now 20% thanks to the Coalition, but lower then) to the 5% lower rate, but were apparently unable to remove it altogether for the reason you cite.

  • Matt (Bristol) 30th Nov '15 - 12:34pm

    There are too many men on this thread for me to feel genuinely comfortable continuing to opionate, but it worries me that there is too much of a de-haut-en-bas thing going on in some of the posts:

    “Right, low-income women of Britain, the state just can’t afford you having kids as we’ve got some new social theories now, so s*d off, but don’t forget to keep doing your low-income labour as it what keeps the rest of us in cheap food, homecare, clean offices, etc, etc. Oh, you weren’t warned? Well, we’ve been talking about this in our ivory towers for some time. Get with the programme…”

    Someone said this was a ‘utilitatarian’ policy. I’d go further and say it’s Malthusian.

  • >just to be clear, false claims of rape are very, very rare.

    I don’t think this is true, or that you can be clear on this topic. I’ve had 2 women make false rape claims against me, one in a bar, very drunk and she wanted to get everyones attention (and succeeded). The other went to the police and told them I held her down, injected her with heroin and raped her. She was mentally ill, made similar claims about 5 other men including 2 of the coppers that had arrested her, so that didn’t last long either.

    Nearly every man I’ve discussed this with has his own story, false rape claims are a modern social norm. We know that rape and false rape claims are poorly reported, should I of gone to the police in the first case and said “a drunk women pointed at me and shouted “he raped me”? It was never going to happen, similarly the other women made so many claims over 24 hours in a police cell that I very much doubt any of this ever made stats. I was raped in a public park when I was about 12, I never reported that either, because nobody wants to talk about boyrape, this is the nature of the topic.

    I don’t believe anyone can speak with statistical certainty of such an occurrence. If you look at the studies its apparent that such a measurement is prone to inaccuracy, hence the results : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_accusation_of_rape . So, current wisdom tells us somewhere between 1.5% and 90% of all rape claims are false, current wisdom doesn’t seem to know a lot about it.

    Rumney 1996 : “it is impossible to discern with any degree of certainty the actual rate of false allegations”.

  • Jayne Mansfield 30th Nov '15 - 1:39pm

    Matt ( Bristol).
    It is always heartening to read your thoughtful posts.

    The withdrawal of benefits to women who have more than two children is disgraceful and so typical of Tory thinking..

    One cannot discriminate in favour of those who can prove rape or exceptional circumstances. Anyone who knows anything about domestic abuse, will be aware that control over a woman’s fertility is often one manifestation of intimate partner abuse ( IPA). It might come as a surprise to some, that some women do not even know that rape in marriage is an offence, or that the partner’s behaviour IS rape .

    I agree with you, the policy is Malthusian and , in my opinion, it will add to the burden of those already overburdened with guilt, including trapped, distressed, abused women, who will be burdened with even greater guilt because they cannot protect their children from the added adversity of increased poverty.

    It is a pity as we approach Christmas, ( one of the recognised trigger times for abuse), that there are some politicians who produce and justify policies that kick the helpless when they are already down.

  • I have been reading the other post about bombing Syria, then I signed a petition that asked the government to help Syrian refugees and now I’ve just read this one and all the comments. It seems to me that they are all linked. What could be more alienating than your parents living in poverty because they had more than the two children they were allowed by a dictatorial state? Like China, in fact. A recruiting ground for extremists so the terrorists get stronger. So we decide to bomb their strongholds which involves more civilian casualties. Which strengthensthe terrorists. Then we refuse to properly help those who escape their bombed out country. Which strengthens the terrorists.
    So let’s stop spending money we can’t afford on bombing people and instead use it to support those in distress and those who live in poverty.
    I have a guilty secret. I have three children. I longed to have all of them and fortunately I could afford to have them because I wasn’t living under Osbourne’s cruel regime and because we had enough income to support them. The choice of how many children to have should not be made by an intrusive state but by the people concerned. This proposal is the stuff of Communism. Maybe Mao’s Little Red Book has influenced Tory policy after all.

  • I want to extend my sympathy and support for the above commenter ChrisB, and to anybody else that has suffered the injustice of rape, or false rape claims.

    I also want to make it abundantly clear that even if the arbitrary assumption that false accusations being rare is true (if you have heard ‘2%’ you have been lied to) it doesn’t change the part of my point about the *perception* of it.
    It is vitally important that real victims feel confident in reporting, and that we do not allow to fester any part of the system that lends itself to the perceived or actual amount of false rape accusations made. I do not care if you find it offensive to consider, it must be considered if we are ever to tackle the real problems that contribute to the prevalence of rape.

  • >Sue S I have three children. I longed to have all of them and fortunately I could afford to have them

    Lucky you. Some of us who couldn’t opted for a crazy idea called ‘living within your means’ .
    (I could only afford to have one child, so that’s all I had, much as I would have liked to have a second).

    Tax credits should be there to encourage people with children to work, rather than being better off on unemployment benefits. Not to pay people so they can indulge their personal lifestyle choices at the expense of others.
    Cutting things for existing families IS harsh. Doesn’t mean people should feel they can have as many children as they like and expect others to pick up the tab.

    The only people who can afford to have large families, it seems, are those with big incomes, and those with none.
    There is also a global phenomenon in first-world countries where educated women are starting families later and having fewer children.
    And a lot of debate about the implications.

    China’s (1980) one-child rule was an attempt to stop a population explosion, wasn’t universal, has been loosened, and as of this year, is being phased out. Mao believed a large population was a good thing, and the policy was brought in after his death to deal with food shortages and poverty. So, not in his Little Red Book.
    Malthus said population growth would outstrip the food supply (globally, and with other resources finite, that debate is still wide open).
    Neither had anything to do with a state deciding to cap childcare support!

    Maybe we should be looking at some form of positive incentives for people with low or no income to stick to one or two children?

    And on the original topic: the ‘rape’ clause is clearly unworkable.

  • China’s one child policy was relaxed because of the economic stagnation it appears to have caused for them.
    While the concept of what Malthus said may well be plausible, the advances in food production technology far outstripped the population growth since his time. We no longer need to worry about land space and therefore the basis of that concern is no longer valid. Any current or future food shortage will be caused solely by failure, not impossibility; failure to cultivate a strong, supportive economy, and failure to embrace new food technologies such as genetic manipulation.

  • Thanks Matthew, it’s a topic we should be mindful of, because false rape allegations damage the credibility of real rape victims as much as they damage the person they’re directed towards. Saying they’re very, very rare is to ignore the high streets of Britain on a Friday/Saturday evening, false rape claims are commonplace in modern Britain, reporting of such claims is another matter. You only have to look at cases like Terry Brown to see the damage such claims can do to everyone, not just the accused. This documentary explained the issues confronting the police, and the underreporting of false claims : http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/may/15/behind-the-scenes-at-a-police-rape-team-bbc-documentary

    The rape clause is clearly absurd.

  • Matt (Bristol) 1st Dec '15 - 5:14pm

    As the person who introduce the term ‘malthusian’ into the debate (meaning to be a broad-strokes term for those inspired by Malthus), let me quote from the Source of All Knowledge (ie Wikipedia), which I don’t particularly like doing, but I don’t have access to a good university library right now:

    “The great Malthusian dread was that “indiscriminate charity” would lead to exponential growth in the population in poverty, increased charges to the public purse to support this growing army of the dependent, and, eventually, the catastrophe of national bankruptcy. Though Malthusianism has since come to be identified with the issue of general over-population, the original Malthusian concern was more specifically with the fear of over-population by the dependent poor!” (this quote is attributed to an Amaerican academic at the University of Maryland: go here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malthusianism).

    The article also states that Malthus as a clergyman favoured abstinence over contraception, and I think we can assume that both abortion and rape would have horrified him, living in the 1790s as he did.

    I would therefore contend, Cassie, that it is not hysterical to argue that both the idea of the ‘cap’ and the idea of the ‘rape clause’ would have had warm approbation from this 19th century social theorist with his suspciion of humanity’s positive nature, and George Osborne is happily engaged in taking us back to a view of poverty and its causes and solutions that in its core assumptions ignores large chunks of thinking and human response on the subject since at least the death of Queen Victoria.

  • Cassie. I’m sorry you had to limit your family. My reference to the Little Red Book was( perhaps a feeble ) attempt at a joke referencing Labour’s response to the Autumn statement. I still maintain that the proposed policy is draconian and similar to what a Communist dictatorship would introduce. I would still argue that it is illiberal for the Government to control the number of children people have in this way. The next step would be to only allow intelligent people to have more than 2 children, or the very athletic or whatever the Government decides is desirable.
    No one receives enormous amounts of money in benefits and many of those dependent on them have to choose between heating and eating. My solution would be to target benefits where they are most needed but I realise this is not as simple as it sounds.

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