Derby News Comment

3rd Child Tax Credit : From a means test to a rape test.

Children-Jump-Silhouette-2048x2048A policy change that took a matter of seconds for George Osborne to announce in the post-election budget raises so many social questions, the most damning of which is “So a woman will be required to prove rape to secure tax credits for a 3rd child?”

The Chancellor announced on the 8th July:

“The Child Element of tax credits and Universal Credit will no longer be awarded for third and subsequent children born after 6 April 2017.”

But buried within the text of the 100 page published version, there is an interesting clause:

“The Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC will develop protections for women who have a third child as the result of rape”

When presented in such a “matter of fact” way it seems harmless; the underlying assumption is that being raped is an objective fact similar to whether someone has had a broken a leg, or was born before a certain date.

In the UK, the estimate is that there are 85,000 rapes a year.  There are a multitude of reasons, some of which I touched upon in a previous article, as to why women may not report rape. The majority of cases are perpetrated by men known to the women – the notion of “stranger rape” is very rare but, arguably, this policy assumes the contrary.  Of the 85,000 rapes a year, only 15,000 are reported to the Police. 3000, of these result in some form of prosecution, with only 1000 convictions – just over 1%.

What happens if the rapist is the woman’s husband / partner?

Presumably, the only “rape exception”, which is applicable, is where the rapist has been convicted. In the absence of a conviction, does the woman have to go through a review process to “prove” that she was raped. The lack of convictions does not mean that there are few rapes – just simply that rape is notoriously difficult to prove. One can imagine the harrowing conversation at the Department of Work and Pensions with an officer who is on a strict target for reducing the tax credit bill!

What if the 1st child that the woman bears was the consequence of rape, and that in the context of a subsequent long-term relationship the couple wish to have 2 children of their own?  Is that third child not eligible?

When a woman receives tax credit for three children, that places in the public domain, the fact, or at least the suggestion, that she was raped. Most women would not want to divulge this; why should a woman be placed in this embarrassing situation?

What happens if the birth is a legitimate accident though failed contraception? Is the implication that such a foetus is less worthy of support because conception was consensual, but not planned? Is an abortion a tacitly suggested course of action?

Tax policy is often used to drive behaviour. The Married Person’s allowance was created to encourage long-term union, tax rates policies can motivate people to work harder, the “bedroom tax” drove people to down-size their houses – quite often against their will.

This Government seems to have determined that 2 children is the “conservative norm”.  In a free, modern,  and democratic country, the UN principles should apply in spirit, and to the letter

The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo (ICPD) defined reproductive rights

‘…reproductive rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and other relevant United Nations consensus documents. These rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children

Being coerced into holding back on a preferred family size due to government policy seems  dystopian.  “Family size” is an ambiguous concept in 2015; gone are the days that a man and woman got married shortly after leaving school,  had a family and stayed together their entire lives – another “conservative nostalgia”. The national statistics are principally focussed on the number of children that a woman gives birth to – this is the only true objective measure. In the UK this is just under 2 children per woman. 20% of women have 3 children, and 10% have 4 and above.

If a man and a woman who have 2 children from previous relationships and they both have custody of the 4 children, then start living together, will that family unit then lose 2 lots of tax credit, as soon as they declare their new arrangement?

This could drive them to live apart to maximise tax credit eligibility; a position which may not be in the best interests of the children but may be one of economic necessity.

Alternatively, if the new couple have a child each from previous relationships, and would like a child between them, they would be deterred from doing so by this policy – not giving them the opportunity to “decide freely”.

Based on the number of dependent children within a family unit, 92% of families with 3 children or more are from non-white, ethnic minorities. The majority being from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, with a heavy skew towards Muslims.

It is clear the Government is responding to the sensationalist media stories about families with very high numbers of children, who are “living off benefits”. These are the rare exceptions. The average family size with dependent children is 2 ( 20% of families have no children).  It might be a vote-winner to penalise those few people who flaunt the system but there must be easier ways of managing those cases which make an infinitesimally small impact on the UK budget deficit.  To achieve this small apparent  “upside”, the price to pay is shame, bureaucracy, embarrassment, misery, and contrived social engineering.

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