A combination of Government austerity and incompetence risk criminalising survivors of rape in Northern Irelandby Debbie Abrahams / July 28, 2017 / Leave a comment
Debbie Abrahams is fighting the extension of the policy. Photo: PA Two days after calling their disastrous General Election, the Conservatives snuck out legislation to extend their two-child cap on the number of children that can be supported by Child Tax Credits to Northern Ireland. Labour opposed the two child limit during the passage of the 2015/16 Welfare Reform and Work Bill in the Houses of Parliament, which includes this arbitrary restriction on family size, believing it should not be in place anywhere in the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, however, the cap is not only harmful, arbitrary and punitive to these children and their families, but also comes with deeply troubling additional risks. The Government’s two child tax credit limit includes a number of exemptions. One of these, known as the ‘rape clause’, allows those who can prove that they conceived through non-consensual sex to continue to access social security support for their third child. We believe that placing this further burden of proof upon survivors of rape, who statistically too often fail to secure the conviction of their rapist, is morally wrong. In the context of Northern Ireland, however, the introduction of the ‘rape clause’ will also conflict seriously with the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967. This law places a duty on every person who believes an offence has been committed to give any information which might secure a conviction to the police. If they do not, they can find they are guilty of an offence themselves, punishable by two years in prison. A woman who had not reported her rape to the police previously, but applied to receive social security support for a third child conceived through non-consensual sex, could be criminalised and imprisoned for an offence under these provisions. So could a social security adviser who dealt with her claim confidentially, without reporting it. This is already a highly disturbing state of affairs. But it is one that is made considerably worse when one considers the strict anti-abortion laws in Northern Ireland, which prevent access to abortions even in the event of rape. Following the Queen’s Speech, Labour successfully ensured that women from Northern Ireland seeking healthcare in the wider UK will not be charged. Our manifesto also committed to extending abortion rights to all women in Northern Ireland. We know that it will be vulnerable women without resources who will be most affected by this poisonous legal combination, as they will be the ones who cannot afford to travel to the wider UK. The poorest victims of rape will suffer, with neither abortion rights, nor social security support to help them to deal with their trauma. Instead they will be criminalised if they fail to report the crime committed against them. Until a Labour Government can scrap this deeply damaging austerity policy, under our plans to transform the social security system, it is imperative that we act to ensure no survivor of rape in Northern Ireland can be criminalised. That’s why we committed to revoke this legislation as part of our manifesto plans to build a social security system which, like the NHS, is there for us all in our time of need.