Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis mount legal challenge to government’s two child tax credit limit

By agency reporter
August 1, 2018

Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis England and Wales, represented by Karon Monaghan QC and Leigh Day solicitors, are requesting permission to intervene in the Child Poverty Action Group’s legal challenge to the government’s two child tax credit limit policy, to highlight why this cruel policy must be scrapped.

Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis will be representing survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence who are experiencing unlawful and degrading treatment as a result of this policy. This inhumane policy is denying survivors’ access to their entitled child tax credits and may be putting them at risk of further violence and abuse.

Financial concerns are a major barrier to women being able to leave an abusive partner. Although there is an exemption to the policy for victims who disclose that their third or subsequent baby was conceived as a result of rape or coercive control to a third party, the reality is that many victims do not feel comfortable doing so. It is clear that this policy is putting additional financial barriers in the way of survivors who need to flee domestic abuse and sexual violence, and it is leaving them at risk of further abuse.

Women's Aid says it knows from its work with survivors that victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence will often not report rape to anyone due to the shame they feel and the fear of the consequences of speaking out. The organisation point out that it is inhumane to require a victim who has been through trauma to disclose rape to a third party and to formalise that their child was conceived as a result of rape which would be apparent on their benefit records. It is evident that the ‘rape clause’ exemption is a clear breach of women’s human rights under Article 8: the right to privacy and family life.

The policy also requires survivors of domestic abuse to have left the perpetrator to be eligible for the exemption. This fails to recognise the lived experiences of survivors of domestic abuse. Leaving an abusive partner is difficult for survivors and can often be the most dangerous time. On average, two women a week are killed by their partner or ex-partner in England and Wales. In 2016, 77 per cent of such killings occurred within the first year following separation. 

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said: “From our work with survivors, we know that a survivor often leaves an abusive partner with nothing but the clothes on her back. How she will manage to take care of her children and rebuild her life from scratch is her number one concern. Yet we know that many survivors will never build up the confidence to speak out about their experience of domestic abuse or rape due to feeling shame, worrying about the repercussions for their child and fears of the consequences of doing so. A survivor and her children should never be faced with the awful reality of either living in poverty or staying put with the abuser.

“That’s why we have joined Rape Crisis, with the support of Karon Monaghan QC and Leigh Day solicitors, to mount a legal challenge to the government’s inhumane two child tax credit policy. We have repeatedly warned the government that limiting tax credits to two children puts a major financial barrier in way of survivors fleeing domestic abuse and the so-called 'rape clause' exemption does not reflect survivors’ lived experience of disclosing domestic abuse and rape. We hope that the Court of Appeal will recognise how damaging this policy is and rule that the two child tax credit limit policy is unlawful. Survivors must be able to access welfare support for all of their children to safely rebuild their life free from abuse.”

Rape Crisis England and Wales said: “Across our network, Rape Crisis Centres are seeing a marked increase in sexual violence victims and survivors seeking help and support from its specialist Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs) around welfare and poverty issues. It’s clear the Government’s welfare agenda is having severe detrimental effects on women already living with the long-term, wide-ranging health and social impacts of rape and sexual abuse on their lives.

“From our experience of providing frontline services, we know it’s near impossible for a survivor to engage in a meaningful therapeutic process to recover from her experiences, or to consider entering a lengthy criminal justice process, if she’s worrying daily about feeding her children or keeping a roof over their heads.

“The two-child tax credit limit is punitive and discriminatory, and the so-called ‘rape clause’ completely fails to recognise the challenges or impacts of disclosing, and was never workable or humane. This is why we’re joining with Women’s Aid and Leigh Day solicitors to bring this vital legal challenge.”

Tessa Gregory, Partner at Leigh Day, said: “The policy of the Government to force women to reveal a sexual assault in order to receive subsistence benefits to which they are legally entitled, is we believe a very clear breach of the human rights act and therefore unlawful. It is a powerful demonstration of why human rights legislation is needed to tackle this kind of ill thought out and degrading treatment of mothers, which our clients believe is morally repugnant.”

* Women's Aid https://www.womensaid.org.uk/

* Rape Crisis England and Wales https://rapecrisis.org.uk/

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