The UK Government has been urged to abandon its “pernicious” two child policy and rape clause, following the publication of a United Nations Human Rights report.
The new report published today by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), made a number of recommendations including that the two child tax credit limit be repealed. The report authors also warn that Universal Credit risks trapping domestic abuse victims in situations of poverty and violence.
Last year, leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, wrote to the Prime Minister, calling on the Government to bring forward policies to reverse the “shocking trends of rising poverty, rising homelessness and rising destitution”, promising to “expedite” a range of measures through Parliament with Labour support, including: ending the two child limit and scrapping the ‘rape clause.’
The two child limit, and the ‘non-consensual sex exemption’ – commonly known as the ‘rape clause’ – has been the subject of significant opposition since it was challenged in the 2015 Budget, including by the SNP’s Alison Thewliss, among others.
Alison Thewliss. Courtesy of The Scotsman
The report says: “The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations and remains concerned that the payment of Universal Credit, which consolidates six separate income-related benefits, into a single bank account under the Universal Credit system risks depriving women in abusive relationships access to necessary funds and trapping them in situations of poverty and violence.
“It also expresses deep concern at the introduction of a two-child tax credit limit except in certain circumstances such as rape, which has a perverse and disproportionate impact on women.
“The Committee also expresses its concern that the increase in the state pension age for women from 60 to 66, following several legislative changes, has affected the pension entitlements of women born in the 1950s, and is contributing to poverty, homelessness and financial hardships among the affected women.”
The Committee calls on the UK Government to:
(a) Ensure that women in abusive situations are able to independently access payments under the Universal Credit system;
(b) Repeal the two-child tax credit limit;
(c) Take effective measures to ensure that the increase in the State pension age from 60 to 66 does not have a discriminatory impact on women born in the 1950s.
The policy limits child tax credit to the first two children. A number of exceptions were set out, including for a child born as a result of “non-consensual conception”. Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd announced a rollback in January, but faced claims that she was creating “two classes of family” by scrapping it for some claimants but not others.
Human rights and the implications of the Conservatives’ two-child policy
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the UK is a signatory, states:
- 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.
An assessment report last year, by the four children’s commissioners of the UK called on the government to reconsider imposing the deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans at the time to repeal the Human Rights Act.
More than 70,000 low-income families lost up to £2,800 each last year after having their entitlement to benefits taken away as a result of the government’s “two-child policy”, official figures showed. The statistics revealed that during the first year of operation, 59% of the 73,500 families who lost financial support for a third child were in work. Nine per cent of UK claimant households with three or more children were affected.
Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “These figures are truly shocking. The two-child limit is an attack on low-income families, is morally wrong and risks pushing children into poverty.
“It cannot be right that the government is making children a target for austerity, treating one child as if they matter less than another. Labour will make tackling child poverty the priority it should be.”
Margaret Greenwood, shadow Work and Pensions Secretary
Alison Garnham, the chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy.”
Jamie Grier, the development director at the welfare advice charity Turn2us, said: “We are still contacted by parents, the majority of whom are in work, fretting over whether this policy means they might consider terminating their pregnancy.”
The policy was introduced by the former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who described it as a “brilliant idea”, despite it being criticised as a “Chinese-style clampdown on the poor”. Duncan Smith said it would force claimants to make the same life choices as families not on benefits, and incentivise them to seek work or increase their hours.
Commenting on the report, Alison Thewliss MP said: “This most recent condemnation is a damning confirmation of what is a truly cruel and pernicious policy by this heartless UK Tory Government.
“Having ceased rollout of the policy to third and subsequent children born before April 2017, the DWP Secretary of State Amber Rudd must now recognise that the two child policy is unfair for everyone who is affected by it.
“No one can plan for the whole course of their family life, and social security should be a safety net for all of us when we need it.
“Only today, I met with a host of organisations, representing a number of sections of society – including women’s and religious groups – and all were unequivocal in their opposition to the two child policy.
“It is tantamount to social engineering, and it is pushing increasing numbers of families into poverty.
“I will be writing to the UK Government to ask for immediate action on CEDAW’s findings. Amber Rudd must do the right thing and end the two child limit for good.”
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