Under plans drawn up by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), health professionals are amongst the trusted third parties to whom rape survivors should report to access tax credits for their children.
As part of efforts to cut the welfare budget, then-Chancellor George Osborne announced that tax credits for more than two children would no longer be given, unless subsequent youngsters were conceived through rape.
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The rape clause makes an exception for attack victims, but the policy has provoked fury from campaigners and a number of specialist charities including Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland who have said they will not participate in its administration.
Last week hundreds of people took to the streets in Glasgow to protest against the measure.
Public Health Minister Robison has now written to UK Employment Minister Damian Hinds and Treasury Secretary David Gauke calling on the UK Government to “think again” and outlining an informal boycott. She wrote: “There are no circumstances under which it is acceptable to require a women to disclose she has been raped in order to access social security.
“There should not be an expectation that healthcare professionals act as gatekeepers to the benefits system, unless formally contracted. I will expect NHS Scotland staff to act at their discretion and on what they consider is in the best interests of the patient.
“In view of the above, I am unable to disseminate the guidance to NHS Scotland as it stands. I would urge you to rethink this terrible policy before serious harm is caused to women who have already suffered enough.”
In a debate in Holyrood yesterday, Constance said the clause and the two-child cap will have a far-reaching impact on families, stating: “The heinous policy to limit child tax credit support to children and in particular the exemption which requires a woman to prove she was raped is completely unacceptable, deeply harmful to women and their children and is a fundamental violation of women’s human rights.
“There is no doubt that Tory policies will push families into poverty and into crisis.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “This exception is crucial to protect women who are faced with very difficult circumstances.
“This will be delivered in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right exceptions and safeguards in place. The policy was debated, and voted on, in Parliament, and the exceptions were consulted on widely.”