Women who have a child as a result of rape will now have to prove it to receive tax credits due to a policy that has been dubbed the "rape clause" by campaigners.
The UK government announced plans to limit child tax credits to two children in 2015, including the measure that, if a woman has a third child as a result of rape, they will have to prove it in order to qualify for tax credits.
Alison Thewliss, the SNP MP who has led the campaign against the so-called rape clause since she discovered it in the small print of the two-child tax credit policy, said it was "scandalous" that the policy has now come into effect.
Thewliss previously accused the UK government of attempting to "sneak out" the policy on the day of Donald Trump's inauguration as US president in January, and has said no ministers have been able to explain how it will work in practice.
"From today, women will need to prove that their child was conceived as a result of rape – just in order to claim tax credits," said Thewliss. "It is one of the most appalling, disgraceful and demeaning policies ever to emanate from Whitehall and should never have seen the light of day, let alone the statute books.
"At every turn, ministers have tried to quietly implement this policy under the radar, knowing how unworkable and immoral it is.
"It is scandalous that this policy was railroaded through parliament without a vote or debate and it's simply not good enough that the government has promised MPs an opportunity to consider this when parliament returns after Easter.
"The reality is, this policy is now in force and it is going to cause untold distress and harm to vulnerable women."
Thewliss added that "no guidance or training" has been given to public service works who will decide whether women qualify for tax credits as a result of rape, and said she will continue to fight against the policy until it is repealed.
The exemption form, released by the Department for Work and Pensions overnight, says women can prove rape by providing "any available evidence of a conviction for rape or controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship, where this relates to the conception of your child".
It adds that their application could be alternatively be supported by "a healthcare professional, specialist support worker from an approved organisation as listed on GOV.UK, or a registered social worker" – adding that "you do not have to report anything to the police".
The department denies that the policy went though parliament without a debate, saying it was specifically discussed in parliament alongside the two-child policy. A spokesperson for the DWP said: “This exception is crucial to protect women who are faced with very difficult circumstances.
"This reform ensures people on benefits have to make the same choices as those supporting themselves solely through work. But we have always been clear this it will be delivered in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right exceptions and safeguards are in place.
"The policy was debated, and voted on, in parliament, and the exceptions were consulted on widely.”
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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