Scottish Conservatives under fire over child benefit ‘rape clause’

27 Apr 17

MSPs from across the political spectrum joined forces to lambast the Scottish Conservatives over their support for the UK government‘s two-child cap on child benefit entitlement.

In particular, they criticised the so-called ‘rape clause’, which provides exemptions for women prepared to affirm that third or subsequent children were the result of rape or other involuntary sex.

The issue has created palpable discomfort for Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, who has refused to disown the policy and, in a rare show of unity, leaders of the other Holyrood parties joined together in the chamber to pressure her further.

Opening a debate in Holyrood yesterday, first minister Nicola Sturgeon called the implications of the rape clause “truly abhorrent” and dismissed as ridiculous the Conservatives’ argument that Holyrood has the power to mitigate the child benefit cuts.

Westminster, she said, retained the savings made from benefits cuts, and any Scottish mitigation would have to be paid for at the expense of other services.

“No woman anywhere should have to prove that she has been raped in order to get a tax credit for her child and I cannot believe that in 2017 I am having to stand up in the Scottish parliament to make that argument,” Sturgeon said.

Similarly passionate views were voiced by Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat MSPs.

Davidson said that the exemption form was designed so that a woman could leave much of the detail to an authorised third party to supply.

She accused Scottish ministers of treating the parliament as a soapbox for attacking Westminster rather than using their “enormous” devolved powers.

A motion in Sturgeon’s name condemning the Conservative reforms was approved, with only the Conservatives opposing it.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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