On 6 April 2017 the so-called ‘rape clause’ policy came into force in the UK. FiLiA is deeply concerned about this development and the impact it will have on equality for women across the country. FiLiA strongly urges the Government to repeal this provision as well as the associated ‘family cap’ rule.
The Government’s decision to limit child support to a parent’s first two children – the ‘family cap’ rule – is a direct interference with women’s reproductive rights. Women have a right to choose whether or not to have children and, if they choose to have children, how many children to have. When parents are only able to receive child benefits for their first two children, it impacts women’s ability to freely choose by imposing financial constraints. The Government’s interference in this decision-making process, through the ‘family cap’, makes it a policy issue rather than the wholly personal choice it ought to be.
The ‘family cap’ is likely to have a disproportionately negative effect on certain women in society, many of whom are already marginalised, thus further increasing inequality. Women with a low income, those who are unemployed and single mothers are likely to be more dependant on child benefits than high-earners and women with a partner contributing to household costs. The more reliant a woman is on child benefits, the less of a real choice she will have in terms of choosing the number of children she has. Additionally, women from cultures that celebrate and attach status to large families are more likely to be directly impacted by the ‘family cap’. Through imposing a two-child benefit limit, the Government dictates which cultural norms and traditions it deems socially acceptable.
The ‘rape clause’, which seeks to exempt women from the limitations imposed by the ‘family cap’ in instances where a child was born as a result of ‘non-consensual conception’ (ie rape), is nothing short of coercion. In order to receive child benefits for a third or fourth child etc, women are forced to publicly disclose a rape they might otherwise have preferred to keep secret. This can be extremely traumatic, and unfortunately carries with it a lot of social stigma. Furthermore, when women are forced to sign an HMRC form declaring the rape and to provide the name of the child so conceived, the stigma associated with the process is extended beyond the victim to her child in a truly disgraceful manner.
The fact that women are only able to benefit from the ‘rape clause’ exemption if they do not cohabit with the rapist is also problematic. Due to various laws regulating profits from crime, child benefits paid out under the ‘rape clause’ cannot be paid to a woman registered at the same address as the perpetrator of the rape. In cases where the rapist is an abusive partner, this can be a real issue. In order to receive child benefits, women would then be required to leave their abusive partner. Although this might not seem like a bad idea on paper, in reality women escaping abusive relationships risk facing further, and sometimes much worse, violence if the escape is discovered. This is highly problematic.
Taken together, the ‘family cap’ and the ‘rape clause’ interfere with women’s reproductive rights and expose already vulnerable women to further trauma and humiliation. This will have the effect of further increasing inequality in society, and FiLiA therefore urges the Government to repeal both provisions.
Universal Credit Regulations 2013 (SI 2013/376), sch 12, s 5, as amended by the Social Security (Restrictions on Amounts for Children and Qualifying Young Persons) Amendment Regulations 2017 (SI 2017/376), reg 2, s 4