LATEST ISSUE OF VIEW: Two child limit is pushing families into poverty says MP

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Alison Thewliss, MP

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, describes policy, which has a rape clause element, as ‘wicked’ and vows to do all in her power to oppose it

It shouldn’t be a radical statement that society should look after its children, and that each child should be valued. What the UK Government has begun, with the two child limit on Child Tax Credits and Universal Credit, is an undermining of that principle. It breaks the notion that we should allocate resources on the basis of need. From April 6, 2017, there would be no entitlement for a third or subsequent child born on or after that date. From next year, that will apply for all new claims, not just new births. There is a specific issue for Northern Ireland, as family size is statistically larger than other parts of the United Kingdom.

The clear result of this two child limit will be to push families into poverty. Figures just released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on the first year impact of the policy show that 73,530 families across the UK (2,380 in Northern Ireland) have been affected in the first year alone. Each of those families will have lost out by up to £2,780 per year. That’s a lot to make up in a family budget through extra hours in a low-paid job – contrary to what the Tories would have you believe, most of those families are in work.

There are a few exemptions to the two child limit – thus far, 2,900 families are claiming under them. These are problematic and riddled with inconsistencies. For example the exemption for multiple births is supposed to offer support, but only does so if twins follow a single birth. By UK Government logic, if you had twins first, any subsequent children are your choice, but if you have twins after a single birth that couldn’t have been predicted. That there are three children in both situations all needing fed at the end of the day doesn’t seem to occur to them.

An exemption also exists around adopting family groups and for kinship carers. The UK Government were dragged through the courts before they would accept that it was unfair that people caring for their younger siblings would lose out on entitlement should they have children of their own.

The most pernicious and problematic exemption is the “non-consensual sex exemption” – the rape clause. This allows a woman to claim for a third child if that child was conceived as a result of rape or in circumstances of coercive control. A woman must fill out a form, write her child’s name on that form, confirm she is not living with the father of the child, and have all of this confirmed by a third party, such as a social worker, nurse or doctor. Women’s organisations have called this out as retraumatising vulnerable women, of putting them at risk if they are forced to leave an abusive relationship.

For women in Northern Ireland, filling in this form is even more difficult due to the implications of the Criminal Law Act 1967. This could lead to both the woman and the third party verifier being prosecuted if they don’t report the crime of rape to the police.

The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers, Northern Ireland Women’s Aid and a host of others all raised concerns prior to the implementation of the policy to no avail.

Shockingly, it took until May this year – over 13 months since the policy came into operation – for the Attorney General to issue guidance on this and confirming that women and organisations would have a “reasonable excuse” for not reporting the rape to the police. The chilling impact of this is clear – of the 190 women claiming under the rape clause in the first year of the policy, the DWP records show that none of them were in Northern Ireland.

The two child policy is cruel; it passes judgment on people’s lives and on they children they have. None of us can fully predict what will happen in life – it takes only for you or a partner to leave, take ill, die, or for our working situation to change to mean that we might need to turn to the social security system for support. What the Tories have done is to cut huge holes in the safety net, which will plunge families into poverty rather than help them through hard times. It is wicked – and I will continue do all in my power to oppose it. I hope you will join me.

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