Welsh Women’s Aid’s direct services will decline to participate in the third party evidence model, because of the policy and practice implications.
Welsh Women’s Aid strongly opposes the UK Government’s welfare reform policies that reduce vital social security for women who have more than two children, and introduce an exception where women have to disclose their experience of rape in order to avoid losing money through tax credit restrictions.
These policies are discriminatory and an abhorrent means by which economic coercion is introduced to control low-income women’s reproductive rights, to compel women to disclose sexual violence under threat of financial penalties.
To implement the policy, the UK Government has introduced a third party evidence model whereby specialist support organisations can be listed as being authorised to support a woman in qualifying for an exemption from the two-child limitation to Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit, where her third or subsequent child(ren) were born as a result of rape (referred to as ‘non-consensual conception’).
This fails to acknowledge that many women remain reluctant to disclose rape to anyone, for reasons including fear, self-protection, shame, and concern for others including the child involved. The recent announcement of new measures in criminal courts highlights that the UK government recognises the sensitivity and expertise required to enable women to feel comfortable to disclose sexual violence. It is concerning that this sensitivity is not being implemented across all UK Government departments.
Welsh Women’s Aid’s direct services will decline to participate in the third party evidence model, because of the policy and practice implications. Nonetheless we accept and respect the right of autonomous specialist services to opt in to become authorised to verify if women’s circumstances qualify for an exemption, and we have received assurances from the Department for Work and Pensions that no specialist service will be expected to act as an ‘assessor’ of any exemption claim, or be required to record or pass on a survivor’s details or the circumstances of a survivor’s experiences.
Regardless of how services decide to support women to access benefits and support, domestic violence services in Wales condemn such discriminatory policies which will push more women and children into poverty. They are being implemented against a backdrop of austerity measures that have a disproportionate impact on women’s access to security, safety and the resources they need to live free from violence and abuse. These policies also contradict other UK and devolved Government commitments to advance gender equality, to eradicate violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence.
We will monitor this policy closely as it is rolled out and collate feedback about its implementation, whilst as a movement continuing to oppose these policy changes for the benefit of all women and children.