FERMANAGH Women’s Aid is working closely with local police and social services representatives on a way forward since the 2-child tax credit ‘rape clause’ rule came into effect across the UK at the beginning of the month.
Policy changes have placed a limit on child tax credits to a woman’s first two children.
But a clause in the policy means a woman will be eligible for benefit claims on any subsequent child if she can prove the child was conceived by rape.
Describing the policy as a “cruel law” which has a “breath-taking lack of understanding of sexual violence”, Women’s Aid has called on the government to “re-evaluate and reject” its implementation.
Senior manager of Fermanagh Women’s Aid, Mary McCann, says the policy not only makes the organisation’s work more difficult, it will also be devastating and traumatising for those affected by it.
“We have discussed the issue at a regional level,” she told the Impartial Reporter this week, “We will be dealing with this issue on a case by case basis.”
The organisation as a whole has accused the government of displaying a “callous disregard” for the wellbeing of victims of domestic violence.
“The policy is discriminatory towards women, and towards poor women in particular,” it says.
Women’s Aid have refused to be a benefits reporting system for the clause, instead branding the policy as ‘sick’.”
Locally, the issue was raised at the latest Fermanagh and Omagh District Council (FODC) meeting.
Describing the law as a “fundamental violation of women’s rights” Sinn Fein councillor, Debbie Coyle proposed that FODC join with Women’s Aid, other concerned women’s groups and the Equality Commission by writing to the Secretary of State, the Equality Commission and the Human Rights Commission opposing the child tax credit policy.
This was passed with full Council support.
“There has been no parliamentary debate, no scrutiny and no training for the third party assessors,” she told her colleagues at the meeting.
“This policy has been dreamed up by people with no understanding of rape or domestic abuse. Women who are married or in long-term relationships can be forced into having sex by an abusive partner and may become pregnant.
“This policy will pass judgement on that woman. The only way she can get money for the third child is if she can prove that she was raped. That child will be classified as a child of rape. How you prove you are raped is by telling a third party, in Northern Ireland this would be Women’s Aid who would become benefits assessors.
“If the woman stays with the partner, she does not get the money. Anyone who knows anything about domestic abuse knows that the most dangerous time to leave is when a woman is pregnant.
“I believe that the policy presumes that poverty arises out of faulty individual choices rather than faulty political decision making and ideological driven social and economic policies, and that the policy is offensive, undermines human dignity and treats children as commodities that people can do without,” added Ms. Coyle.
“Child Poverty Action Group are urging women who are considering having more children in the future and will be affected by this to get in touch. What about people whose faith prevents them from using contraceptives?”
Although there is still hope that the legislation will be overturned, in the meantime, Fermanagh Women’s Aid’s senior manager has advised those affected to come forward to the local branch.
“We will guide each woman as best we can through this,” she assures. “Remembering at all times, the safety of her and her child.
“We cannot say whether this will be overturned or not. We have the support of various MLAs and government officials and we are in their hands.”