Doctors in Scotland have told the UK government that they believe the so-called “rape clause” is a shameful process and support any colleagues who refuse to participate in the assessment required to claim benefits.
The BMA Scotland has ratified a motion that highlights what they say is the terrible ordeal women are being expected to relive in order to be eligible to receive support for a third child. Changes to child tax credits became law at the beginning of April after the move was first announced by the then Chancellor George Osborne in 2015.
The UK government wants to limit credit to the first two children with one of the exceptions to this being for a child born as a result of “non-consensual conception”. This is the so-called “rape clause”.
The BMA says it envisages two different scenarios where a doctor might be involved.
The first is where there is information on the patient’s medical record that supports the claim the child was conceived by “non-consensual conception” and the GP is being asked to confirm that with the patient’s consent. The second is where the “assessor” has no-prior knowledge of the patient and the doctor could be used as an assessor where the patient is unknown to the doctor or where the GP knows that person but there has never been any mention of the rape/abuse that forms the basis for the claim. The BMA says it has serious concerns about this proposal which could put doctors in a “very difficult position” and raises questions about acting outside their sphere of expertise.
Dr Peter Bennie, chair of BMA Scotland, said: “This legislation has been pushed through without thorough consultation with relevant stakeholders such as the BMA, and yet the regulations present significant ethical and professional challenges for doctors.
“The ‘rape clause’ is fundamentally damaging for women – forcing them to disclose rape and abuse at a time and in a manner not of their choosing, at pain of financial penalty. In addition to the likely negative impact on the woman and the doctor-patient relationship, there is also the impact on individual children, who may have been conceived through coercion or rape, to consider. This is an ill-conceived piece of legislation and I encourage doctors to consider very carefully whether to participate in this process or not.”
Miles Briggs MSP, shadow health secretary, defended the UK government’s position.
He said: “The UK government did consult widely on how the exemptions to the two child tax credit limit would operate and aimed to ensure these were delivered in the most effective and compassionate way possible.”