The government’s decision to limit child tax credits to two children only per family, unless a further child is the result of rape, has been referred to a United Nations human rights panel.
The government has made an exception to the tax credit limit for children conceived through rape – though what policies will be put in place to process this exemption have yet to be specified.
A formal complaint by the Scottish National Party MP Alison Thewliss to the UN will be examined by its official committee on the rights of the child, before hearings on the impact of the Conservative’s welfare “reforms” next week. A UK government delegation will have to explain how the “reforms” conform to the UN obligations on child poverty.
The UN has asked the UK government to provide evidence on whether ministers had carried out an impact assessment into how the welfare cuts including the implementation of the benefits cap “and other benefits cuts” would affect children.
In a letter to Alison Thewliss, the UN said it had also asked for information on “the measures being taken to mitigate negative impact of this reform on the enjoyment of the rights of children, particularly those in vulnerable situations”.
The UN committee is expected to deliver its final recommendations to the UK government in early June.
Thewliss, who held a meeting with the welfare reform minister Lord Freud earlier this week, described the rape clause as “medieval”. She said it “stigmatises mother and child, and risks discriminating against those who may for religious or traditional reasons have larger families.”
Eugenics by stealth
Last year I wrote about the government plans to restrict child tax credit payments to two children in families, with the stated intention of directing behavioural change, so that poor families wouldn’t have more children that they “can afford.” This assumes, of course that family situations remain static, and that people don’t experience downward mobility because of job market insecurity, accident or ill health. The Conservatives had announced plans to cut welfare payments for larger families at that time. Whilst this might not go quite as far as imposing limits on the birth of children for poor people, it does effectively amount to a two-child policy.
A two-child policy is defined as a government-imposed limit of two children allowed per family or the payment of government subsidies only to the first two children.
The restriction in support for children of larger families significantly impacts on the autonomy of families, and their freedom to make decisions about their family life. Benefit rules purposefully aimed at reducing family size rarely come without repercussions.
It’s worth remembering that David Cameron ruled out cuts to tax credits before the election when asked during interviews. Tax credit rates weren’t actually cut in the recent Budget – although they were frozen and so will likely lose some of their value over the next four years because of inflation.
Some elements were scrapped, and of course some entitlements were restricted. But either way a pre-election promise not to cut child tax credits sits very uneasily with what was announced in the budget.
Iain Duncan Smith said last year that limiting child benefit to the first two children in a family is “well worth considering” and “could save a significant amount of money.” The idea was being examined by the Conservatives, despite previously being vetoed by Downing Street because of fears that it could alienate parents. Asked about the idea on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Duncan Smith said:
“I think it’s well worth looking at,” he said. “It’s something if we decide to do it we’ll announce out. But it does save significant money and also it helps behavioural change.”
Firstly, this is a clear indication of the Tories’ underpinning eugenicist designs – exercising control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of faulty individual choices, rather than faulty political decision-making and ideologically driven socioeconomic policies.
Such policies are not only very regressive, they are offensive, undermining human dignity by treating children as a commodity – something that people can be incentivised to do without.
Moreover, a policy aimed at restricting support available for families where parents are either unemployed or in low paid work is effectively a class-contingent policy.
The tax child credit policy of restricting support to two children seems to be premised on the assumption that it’s the same “faulty” families claiming benefits year in and year out. However, extensive research indicates that people move in and out of poverty – indicating that the causes of poverty are structural rather than arising because of individual psychological or cognitive deficits.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a study that debunked the notion of a “culture of worklessness” in 2012. I’ve argued with others more recently that there are methodological weaknesses underlying the Conservative’s regressive positivist/behaviourist theories, especially a failure to scientifically test the permanence or otherwise of an underclass status, and a failure to distinguish between the impact of “personal inadequacy” and socioeconomic misfortune.
Limiting financial support to two children may also have consequences regarding the number of abortions. Abortion should never be an outcome of reductive state policy. By limiting choices available to people already in situations of limited choice – either an increase of poverty for existing children or an abortion, then women may feel they have no choice but to opt for the latter. That is not a free choice, because the state is inflicting a punishment by withdrawing support for those choosing to have more than two children, which will have negative repercussions for all family members.
Many households now consist of step-parents, forming reconstituted or blended families. The welfare system recognises this as assessment of household income rather than people’s marital status is used to inform benefit decisions. The imposition of a two-child policy has implications for the future of such types of reconstituted family arrangements.
If one or both adults have two children already, how can it be decided which two children would be eligible for child tax credits? It’s unfair and cruel to punish families and children by withholding support just because those children have been born or because of when they were born. Or because of the circumstances of their birth.
And how will residency be decided in the event of parental separation or divorce – by financial considerations rather than the best interests of the child? That flies in the face of our legal framework which is founded on the principle of paramountcy of the needs of the child. I have a background in social work, and I know from experience that it’s often the case that children are not better off residing with the wealthier parent, nor do they always wish to.
Restriction on welfare support for children will directly or indirectly restrict women’s autonomy over their reproduction. It allows the wealthiest minority to continue having babies as they wish, whilst aiming to curtail the poor by disincentivising “breeding” of the “underclass.” It also imposes a particular model of family life on the rest of the population. Ultimately, this will distort the structure and composition of the population, and it openly discriminates against the children of large families.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the UK is a signatory, reads:
- Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
- Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies to all children and young people aged 17 and under. The convention is separated into 54 articles: most give children social, economic, cultural or civil and political rights, while others set out how governments must publicise or implement the convention.
The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 December 1991. That means the State Party (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) now has to make sure that every child benefits from all of the rights in the treaty. The treaty means that every child in the UK has been entitled to over 40 specific rights. These include:
1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.
1. States Parties shall recognize for every child the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance, and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of this right in accordance with their national law.
There are other relevant Convention Articles here, which the Conservative’s two-child policy also potentially compromises or violates.
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