Fury as UK minister suggests rape clause gives women ‘chance to talk’

Esther McVey. Picture: Scottish Parliament.
Esther McVey. Picture: Scottish Parliament.
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A UK cabinet minister has provoked a furious backlash after suggesting women affected by the so called “rape clause” could benefit from having the chance to talk about their ordeal.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey was heckled by members of the public in Holyrood’s Social Security committee yesterday, twice prompting a halt in proceedings.

The former TV presenter faced tough grilling from MSPs over the roll-out of Universal Credit amid concerns that many vulnerable Scots have lost out.

The rape clause caps child credit to just two children. It is only extended to a third if the woman involved fills out a non-consensual sex form.

Ms McVey said yesterday: “This could give them an opportunity to talk about maybe something that’s happened that they never had before.

“So it is potentially double support there - them getting the money they need and maybe an outlet which they might possibly need.”

The comments brought the second suspension of the meeting amid angry outbursts from the public gallery.

Marion Nisbet, of campaign group Disabled People Against the Cuts Glasgow, was escorted out of Holyrood by police after she had heckled Ms McVey over the comments.
“I found it absolutely horrific that Esther McVey thinks that some woman is going to be empowered by being terrorised by the Department of Work and Pensions, being handed on to some third sector organisation,” she said afterwards.

“How that is going to empower that woman and assist her to go on in life - I’m just astounded at her reply.”

It is now a year since the rape clause was introduced. A demonstration will be held by opponents on Thursday in Edinburgh.

Ms McVey’s comments came in response to questions from Alison Johnstone of the Greens.

The Lothians MSP said afterwards: “It’s simply astonishing that this invasive and upsetting clause exists, forcing women to put on record events which they wish to remain private.”

Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland have refused to co-operate with the rape clause as “third party referers.”

Ms McVey had earlier dodged a request to apologise from the SNP’s Ben MacPherson for the “suffering and distress” caused by the Universal credit system, which was set up to roll several benefits into one direct payment.

The SNP’s George Adam said Universal Credit is causing “financial mayhem” and raised the case of a constituent sanctioned while in hospital having suffered a heart attack. He asked Ms McVey if she believes the system is “fit for purpose”.

She said: “Universal Credit is fit for purpose but with this slow rollout, this learn-as-you-go approach which we are doing, that is to make sure that should there are any issues within the system that need to be supported and altered, well we’ve done that, we’re doing that, because it does need to work for everyone.”