A House of Lords Committee has echoed concerns raised by Women’s Aid Northern Ireland about the ‘rape clause’ and 2-child tax credit cap. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has hit out at the provision brought in by the Conservative government, which requires women who conceive a child through rape to report to benefits assessors if they are to be given additional child tax credits.

Women’s Aid and other organisations across the UK have roundly condemned the so-called ‘rape clause’, and the 2-child cap which limits child tax credits to only 2 children per family. The rape clause will not only re-traumatise victims of rape by forcing them to disclose details of their ordeal before they are ready, it will also force them to name the child conceived from rape on an official form and require them to no longer be living with their rapist if it is their partner. These requirements risk stigmatising children, pushing women and children into poverty, and placing women and children at risk of harm if they leave an abusive household without appropriate safety planning or risk assessment in place.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee already targeted the rape clause for criticism earlier this year, warning the Government that the rape clause “would be much more difficult to assess and DWP did not, at that stage, appear to have made adequate arrangements for doing so.”  Most recently, the Committee has hit out at the working of the policy in Northern Ireland, where a local law requires all serious crimes, including rape, to be reported to police.

Under section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967, anyone who knows or believes that a serious crime has taken place must report that crime to the police, or be guilty of a crime themselves. This means that all organisations involved in assessing ‘rape clause’ applications will be forced to report the cases to police.

Women’s Aid in Northern Ireland is concerned that this will have many serious consequences. Firstly, any benefits assessors, including medical professionals, social workers, benefits office workers and Women’s Aid staff, risk being convicted of a crime if they do not report a rape to police, even if to do so would traumatise the victim or put her at risk of harm. Secondly, the clause may result in police forcing a rape victim to engage with a criminal investigation that she does not have the will or the strength to endure. Thirdly, the fact that section 5 increases the likelihood of the police becoming involved will make it likely that some women will not claim the benefit in order to avoid that risk, leaving them and their children in increased poverty.

We are encouraged that the Committee has highlighted the serious flaws in this law, and has critcised it in the strongest terms possible. Now it’s time for Theresa May’s government to do the right thing and ditch the 2-child cap and ‘rape clause’ for the sake of women, children and families across the UK.