Women who have a third child as a result of sexual assault will be forced to prove the rape to a third party in order to qualify for child tax credits, government plans quietly confirmed on the Friday of US president Donald Trump's inauguration.
Campaigners and opposition MPs reacted angrily to the decision, announced in a consultation document published on the government's website on Friday.
The "rape clause", as many campaigners refer to it, was first introduced in 2015 by then chancellor George Osborne as part of an attempt to limit tax credits to families with only two children.
Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, said the decision to go ahead with the policy was "ridiculous" – and lambasted the timing of the announcement as "incredible".
“To sneak it out," she told BuzzFeed News, "while the inauguration is going on and everyone’s eyes are elsewhere, is absolutely despicable.”
Thewliss, who has campaigned on the issue since 2015, said that despite the policy being rolled out on 6 April, "to this day they still haven’t properly explained exactly why they are doing this and how they expect it to work in practice.”
In the consultation document, the government says third parties – which can be doctors or women's groups – will suffice to demonstrate the woman is eligible for tax credits. Children conceived in controlling or coercive relationships will also be exempt – but only provided the woman is no longer living with the man.
Rachael Krys, co-director of End Violence Against Women (EVAW), described the government's decision to push through the policy as "appalling".
“No one thinks this is a good idea,” she told BuzzFeed News. "It won’t help women, and it totally and almost deliberately misunderstands how both domestic and sexual violence happen and the impact it has."
EVAW also rubbished Department for Work and Pensions claims the information would be handled confidentially and sensitively. "Only last week they committed a really serious breach in data," Krys said, after the ex-partner of a domestic violence victim was told where she was living.
"This is sensitive information and they are not the best people to hold it."
Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, said in a statement online that the government's "actively harmful" policy demonstrated its "profound lack of understanding" about the nature of sexual abuse and coercive relationships.
She continued: “The fact that the Government have chosen Donald Trump’s inauguration to quietly sneak out a publication of controversial new rules that demand women ‘prove’ their rape to a third party before receiving child benefit is underhanded and extremely disappointing."
A spokesperson for the DWP told BuzzFeed News the policy was part of welfare reforms aimed at controlling public spending.
"This reform ensures people on benefits have to make the same choices as those supporting themselves solely through work," they said. "But we have always been clear this reform will be delivered in the most effective, compassionate way and we have consulted to ensure the right exceptions and safeguards are in place."