MSPs have voted to call on the UK Government to remove the two-child cap on tax credits and scrap the so-called rape clause.
Holyrood voted by 91 to 31 in favour of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s motion, as amended by Labour and the Greens, that the Scottish Parliament is “fundamentally opposed” to the two-child limit, claiming it will push families into poverty, and “utterly condemns the disgraceful and repugnant ‘rape clause’” as “unfair, unequal, morally unacceptable and deeply harmful to women and their children and a fundamental violation of women’s human rights”.
The policy, which limits tax credits to two children with an exemption for women who have conceived as a result of rape, was introduced in April as part of wider welfare reforms.
The vote followed a passionate Holyrood debate where Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale urged Tory MSPs to heed a “heart-breaking” letter from a woman who would have been affected by the policy.
MSPs listened in silence as Ms Dugdale read the woman’s account of her ordeal after she was raped by a friend four years ago and went on to have the baby.
The letter told how the “need to protect my children from the truth came above all other considerations” to avoid “the permanent and damaging stigma attached to rape”.
It continued: “I claimed tax credits from birth to 11 months old; the hand-up I needed when I was at my most vulnerable to allow me to re-stabilise my family.
“Tax credits kept our heads above water, a buffer between us and the food bank, for that I am eternally grateful.
“There is no way I could complete that awful form of shame, no matter what the consequences.
“Looking back, that really could have been the thing that tipped me completely over the edge; the difference between surviving to tell the tale and not.”
Ms Dugdale said: “This heart-breaking letter from a rape victim exposes the reality of the Tory rape clause. Or the ‘awful form of shame’, as she puts it.
“That is the burden this Tory Government wants to put on victims of rape because it doesn’t want to pay for more than two children in a poor family. It is an absolutely sickening state of affairs.
“It’s not the author of that letter, or any other rape victim, who should feel shame. It is those on the Tory benches here and in Westminster who refuse to act who should feel shame.”
The First Minister said the policy is both “immoral” and “unworkable in practice”, adding: “No woman anywhere should have to prove that she has been raped in order to get tax credits for her child.”
Ms Sturgeon also pre-empted calls from the Tories for the Scottish Government to use its devolved powers over welfare to act, saying this “ridiculous and unsustainable” argument meant the UK Government could scrap all Scottish benefits and expect the Scottish Government to cover the cost.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said she agrees with the two-child cap and the exemptions which go along with it, and highlighted the devolved powers over welfare for MSPs who oppose the cap.
She said: “If she [Nicola Sturgeon] chooses strong words but chooses not to act, that would indeed be shameful.”
Ms Davidson warned people to be “clear with the facts” on the rape clause exemption, saying: “I have heard members of this chamber say on television that women must complete an eight-page form in order to receive this exemption. This is simply not correct.
“It is important that we are not wilfully misrepresenting the process here, causing fear and alarm.”