Ahead of Today’s protest against the introduction of the dreaded ‘Rape Clause’ to Child Tax Credit applications, Elaine Crory talks to TLR about how for women in NI – it only adds to current difficulties.
In April, new rules came into place regarding tax credits, which had been announced over a year beforehand by then Chancellor George Osborne, the most controversial new rule is a cap on the child element of tax credits, meaning that parents can only claim tax credits for their first two children. Parents with a third or subsequent child born before this April can still claim; heaven knows we wouldn’t want to give the impression that the Tories are unfair or punishing. There is one other exception, a mother can still claim for a third child born after April provided she can prove that this child was conceived as a result of rape.
The rape clause, which we will discuss in detail later, has rightly drawn much ire from commentators, but there is plenty to be angry about before we get that far. So let’s discuss the new rules more generally. Firstly, it is worth clarifying that the bulk of recipients of child tax credits are in work and many in work that pays a sizable amount of tax, so this is effectively their own tax money topping up their meagre wages to meet the cost of living. That alone is a damning indictment of late stage capitalism, but it is framed by the Tories as a waste of time and resources – they would prefer employers pay workers more, they say, so they wouldn’t need to claim tax credits. This is the argument behind their so called national living wage, which sounds good, except that the shortfall would take a long time to equalise, if it ever would, because it’s simply not enough. And it’s a smokescreen to mask their long term goal; to axe tax credits altogether. In a country where working professionals have to visit foodbanks and an embarrassingly large percentage of children live in poverty, this must be seen as what it is; social cleansing. The Tories are actively trying to make poor people – children specifically – poorer.
They say that they want to get people into work, knowing all along that this will not necessarily solve their financial struggles because most already do. They wave their improved employment figures like victory flags, despite the fact that an alarming percentage of the jobs they have “created” are zero hours contracts or self employment where the “employed” status gives them a stats boost, but the actual person on the other end of the numbers is left poorer than ever, uncertain of that month’s income, and ineligible for benefits.
So why can’t people just plan their families more carefully? Only have two children if that’s all you can afford, don’t try to fleece the system, right? Well, obviously not all pregnancies are planned, in fact around half are not. In the case of an unexpected third pregnancy, a woman in Northern Ireland faces an impossible bind; if she keeps the baby, she gets no child tax credit, but she also cannot legally have an abortion without incurring significant expenses. Even if she could access free, safe and legal abortion, do we really want to become a society where people are punished for not having abortions when the state deems their baby unwanted?
But there is a bigger question; why do the working class have to justify the number of children they want to have? It certainly is not an expectation that they themselves feel they must meet, for example Jacob Rees-Mogg just recently had a sixth child whose nappy he won’t change. In all likelihood, people who want to have a third child will do so anyway, and will take the financial hit because a decision to have a child is much more than a financial one. And what of those people currently earning enough comfortably support three children who may face financial woes later down the line? People lose their jobs, become long-term ill, lose partners through death and abandonment; the argument that insists that people have only the number of children they can currently support ignores the unpredictability of life. Blended families aren’t even considered, so that a person whose partner has two children with a previous partner cannot receive child tax credit for their own first child. If all of this sounds cruel and ruthlessly bureaucratic, that’s not a coincidence.
And that brings us to the cruellest clause of all; the exception allowed if the child has been conceived through rape. The 8 page form required to make such a claim is as unpleasant as you might imagine. Women’s groups have stressed that being forced to confront this can re-traumatise victims, and we can only imagine the damage done to children who will be officially recorded as the product of rape. To make things worse, a claim is only acceptable if the victim is no longer living with her rapist, which ignores the brutal reality of abusive relationships where pregnancy is often used as a means to control. And in Northern Ireland, where we have a Troubles-era law which means professionals must report any crime disclosed to them, it may prove dangerous. Even when the victim does not fear repercussions from the rapist, many choose not to report rape for a myriad of reasons, often finding themselves healing in private. To put people in a position where they must either declare that to the government, naming their child in the process, or face financial struggles is cruel in the extreme.
This Thursday September 21st (today), there will be a protest against this policy at the Causeway Exchange on Bedford Street at 1pm, please join and let them know where we all stand.