Victims won't jump through hoops - and the government knows it
Last Wednesday evening, parliament added an amendment to the Tax Credits Act without a vote or a debate, while the eyes of the nation were mostly fixed on the never-ending fallout from Brexit and the fresh call for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
This amendment is better known as the ‘Rape Clause’, which despite being a decidedly unfortunate name merely scratches the surface of just how unfortunate the legislation it refers to is on its own.
On the face of it, the amendment sympathetically allows mothers to claim child tax credit (CTC) for a third child in the event that he or she was the result of ‘non-consensual conception’.
Seen in this light, it was intended to quell any suggestion that the government was being insensitive to rape victims in limiting Child Tax Credit to only two children, a restriction which was announced in the Summer Budget of 2015 and which comes into force from April 6th.
However, the amendment is anything but sympathetic or sensitive, since it requires that a ‘claimant provides evidence from an approved person which demonstrates that’ their third child was conceived as a result of rape.
Admittedly, there is a certain short-sighted logic involved in this requirement, insofar as it will foreclose the remote possibility of someone lying about being raped in order to obtain additional benefits.
Yet if the government knew anything about how likely it is for actual rape victims to come forward and report a rape in the first place, they’d know that it effectively prevents all but the most courageous of them from claiming CTC for a third child.
In fact, it’s hard to shake the suspicion that the government is more than aware of just how difficult and unlikely it is for a victim of sexual assault to report what they’ve been through, since statistics on this subject are ample.
For example, the charity Rape Crisis says only 15 per cent of people who experience sexual violence feel able to report it to the police.
The question therefore arises: if victims of sexual abuse are unable to go the authorities around the time of an incident, what chance is there of them coming forward months if not years later simply to claim additional tax credits?
The answer, most likely, is that there’s very little chance, and that the government is effectively preventing them from claiming for more than two children by forcing them to do so.
Not only that, but it’s doing so knowingly, since the above 15 per cent figure originally comes, not from Rape Crisis, but from the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, and the ONS, who jointly published An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales in 2013.
Yet things are even worse than the 15 per cent report rate would suggest, since even when rape victims come forward, only 7.5 per cent of reported rape cases end in a conviction.
If nothing else, this hints at the difficulty a claimant is likely to face in proving that a rape has occurred in the already unlikely event that she comes forward to claim for a third child.
And while any claimant most likely won’t have to go before a court and prove a rape to the same standards as they would in a criminal case, the need to go before a doctor, nurse or social worker still raises the question of what will happen afterwards.
Given that a claimant will attest to being raped, there will be the fear that she’ll feel or be put under pressure to go further – if she hasn’t done so already – and report the crime to the police.
As the figures above show, this is sadly but understandably something most rape victims seek to avoid.
And given that they’re likely to be even more deterred from claiming CTC as a result, the Rape Clause ultimately can’t help but come across as another case of the government attempting once again to have its cake and eat it.
Above all else, it finds the Conservatives cynically conniving to cut the benefit bill while making it seem as though they’re ready and willing to provide benefits for those who really need it.
However, they’re not ready and willing at all, and the sooner the amendment is brought to light and shamed for the veiled prohibition it really is, the better.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.