Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis mount legal challenge to government’s cruel two child tax credit limit policy

 

Tuesday 31st July 2018

 

Today, Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis England & Wales, represented by Karon Monaghan QC and Leigh Day solicitors, are requesting permission to intervene in the Child Poverty Action Group’s legal challenge to the government’s two child tax credit limit policy to highlight why this cruel policy must be scrapped.

Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis will be representing survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence who are experiencing unlawful and degrading treatment as a result of this policy. This inhumane policy is denying survivors’ access to their entitled child tax credits and may be putting them at risk of further violence and abuse.

Financial concerns are a major barrier to women being able to leave an abusive partner. Although there is an exemption to the policy for victims who disclose that their third or subsequent baby was conceived as a result of rape or coercive control to a third party, the reality is that many victims do not feel comfortable doing so. It is clear that this policy is putting additional financial barriers in the way of survivors who need to flee domestic abuse and sexual violence, and it is leaving them at risk of further abuse.

From our work with survivors, we know that often victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence will never report rape to anyone due to the shame they feel and the fear of the consequences for speaking out. It is inhumane to require a victim who has been through trauma to disclose rape to a third party and to formalise that their child was conceived as a result of rape which would be apparent on their benefit records. It is evident that the ‘rape clause’ exemption is a clear breach of women’s human rights under Article 8: the right to privacy and family life.

The policy also requires survivors of domestic abuse to have left the perpetrator to be eligible for the exemption. This fails to recognise the lived experiences of survivors of domestic abuse. Leaving an abusive partner is difficult for survivors and can often be the most dangerous time. On average, two women a week are killed by their partner or ex-partner in England and Wales. In 2016, 77% of women who were killed by an ex-partner were killed within the first year following separation.[1]

 

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:

“From our work with survivors, we know that a survivor often leaves an abusive partner with nothing but the clothes on her back. How she will manage to take care of her children and rebuild her life from scratch is her number one concern. Yet we know that many survivors will never build up the confidence to speak out about their experience of domestic abuse or rape due to feeling shame, worrying about the repercussions for their child and fears of the consequences of doing so. A survivor and her children should never be faced with the awful reality of either living in poverty or staying put with the abuser.

“That’s why we have joined Rape Crisis, with the support of Karon Monaghan QC and Leigh Day solicitors, to mount a legal challenge to the government’s inhumane two child tax credit policy. We have repeatedly warned the government that limiting tax credits to two children puts a major financial barrier in way of survivors fleeing domestic abuse and the so-called “rape clause” exemption does not reflect survivors’ lived experience of disclosing domestic abuse and rape. We hope that the Court of Appeal will recognise how damaging this policy is and rule that the two child tax credit limit policy is unlawful. Survivors must be able to access welfare support for all of their children to safely rebuild their life free from abuse.”

 

Rape Crisis England & Wales said: 

“Across our network, Rape Crisis Centres are seeing a marked increase in sexual violence victims and survivors seeking help and support from its specialist Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs) around welfare and poverty issues. It’s clear the Government’s welfare agenda is having severe detrimental effects on women already living with the long-term, wide-ranging health and social impacts of rape and sexual abuse on their lives.

“From our experience of providing frontline services, we know it’s near impossible for a survivor to engage in a meaningful therapeutic process to recover from her experiences, or to consider entering a lengthy criminal justice process, if she’s worrying daily about feeding her children or keeping a roof over their heads.

“The two-child tax credit limit is punitive and discriminatory, and the so-called ‘rape clause’ completely fails to recognise the challenges or impacts of disclosing, and was never workable or humane. This is why we’re joining with Women’s Aid and Leigh Day solicitors to bring this vital legal challenge.”

 

Tessa Gregory, Partner at Leigh Day, said: 

“The policy of the Government to force women to reveal a sexual assault in order to receive subsistence benefits to which they are legally entitled, is we believe a very clear breach of the human rights act and therefore unlawful. It is a powerful demonstration of why human rights legislation is needed to tackle this kind of ill thought out and degrading treatment of mothers, which our clients believe is morally repugnant.”

 

Karon Monaghan QC and Leigh Day solicitors are offering their expertise pro-bono.

You can support Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis in their work challenging the legality of the cruel two child tax credit limit and representing survivors of domestic and sexual abuse who have experienced degrading treatment as a result of this policy by donating to our Crowd Justice Fund today.

 

If you are worried about your relationship or that of a friend or family member, you can contact the Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge, on 0808 2000 247 or visit www.womensaid.org.uk.

 

For more information, please contact the Women’s Aid press office: 020 7566 2511 / [email protected]

 

 

Notes to editors:

  1.  Rape Crisis England & Wales (RCEW) is the national umbrella body for our network of 44 autonomous member Rape Crisis Centres, working across 55 geographical locations. We support our members in delivering frontline, specialist and independent services for women and girls of all ages who have experienced child sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault and/or any form of sexual violence at any time in their lives. RCEW is a feminist organisation that exists to promote the needs and rights of women and girls who have experienced sexual violence, to improve services for them, and to work towards the elimination of sexual violence. As such, we also raise awareness and understanding of sexual violence in the wider community and with local, regional and national government. Rape Crisis Centres are women-led and offer a range of support, advocacy, counselling and information in women-only safe spaces. Over half our members also provide separate space and services for male survivors of sexual violence. Last year, our member Centres, who each adhere to our specialist Rape Crisis Service Standards responded to over 179,000 helpline calls and provided over 650,000 sessions of specialist support, including counselling and advocacy, to 78,461 individuals.
  2. Leigh Day is a law firm that specialises in the more complex aspects of personal injury and human rights law. Unlike other law firms, we act exclusively for claimants who’ve been injured or treated unlawfully by others. We are committed to achieving access to justice for all including full and fair compensation.
  3. Women’s Aid is the national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. Over the past 44 years, Women’s Aid has been at the forefront of shaping and coordinating responses to domestic violence and abuse through practice, research and policy. We empower survivors by keeping their voices at the heart of our work, working with and for women and children by listening to them and responding to their needs. We are a federation of over 180 organisations who provide just under 300 local lifesaving services to women and children across the country. We provide expert training, qualifications and consultancy to a range of agencies and professionals working with survivors or commissioning domestic abuse services, and award a National Quality Mark for services which meet our quality standards. We hold the largest national data set on domestic abuse, and use research and evidence to inform all of our work. Our campaigns achieve change in policy, practice and awareness, encouraging healthy relationships and helping to build a future where domestic abuse is no longer tolerated. The 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 (run in partnership with Refuge) and ­our range of online services, which include the Survivors’ Forum, help hundreds of thousands of women and children every year.

[1] Femicide Census: 2016 findings (2017) developed by Women’s Aid in partnership with Karen Ingala Smith

© 2015 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

Women’s Aid is a registered charity in England No. 1054154

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