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Work and Pensions Secretary accused of callous disregard over ‘rape clause’

Kezia Dugdale has criticised the Work and Pensions Secretary’s approach to the so called ‘rape clause’.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has been accused of “callous disregard” after insisting the UK Government’s so-called rape clause “strikes the right balance”.

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale wrote to Ms McVey urging her to review the “invasive and degrading” policy on her appointment to the role in Theresa May’s reshuffle earlier this year.

Under UK Government benefit reforms, families are limited to claiming child tax credits for their first two children.

The controversial clause requires women to prove their third child was conceived through rape or during an abusive relationship to qualify for the benefit.

In her response Ms McVey said: “We believe that this approach strikes the right balance between ensuring claimants in these circumstances get the support they are entitled to in a manner that respects the sensitive nature of the disclosure they are required to make to a relevant professional to obtain the exception, whilst at the same time providing reassurance to the Government that the additional support is going to those for whom it is intended.”

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Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey will appear before a Holyrood committee next month (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Ms Dugdale said the reply was “deeply disappointing, and shows a callous disregard for the impact of the rape clause”.

She said: “I wrote to the minister in the hope that she would put party politics aside and, as a woman, agree that this abhorrent clause needs to go.

“Instead, she has responded by claiming that is ‘strikes the right balance’.

“I’m disgusted that she can think forcing women who conceive a child through rape to reveal their ordeal is ‘the right balance’.

“She should be thoroughly ashamed of defending one of the most abhorrent policies of a government in my adult lifetime. A Labour Government will end the vile rape clause.”

Ms McVey is due to appear before the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee next month.

She will be questioned on problems with the roll out of Universal Credit as well as the devolution of welfare powers to Scotland.

Committee convener Clare Adamson MSP said: “This meeting comes at a vital time for social security in Scotland.

“Not only is the Parliament about finalise the Social Security Bill but there are clearly on going issues around the roll out of Universal Credit which need resolved and resolved quickly.

“That is why our committee is pleased that the Secretary of State will be appearing before us.”

A DWP spokesman said:  “This reform ensures people on benefits make the same choices as those supporting themselves solely through work.

“But we have always been clear this will be delivered in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right safeguards in place.

“This exemption is crucial to protect women who are faced with this very difficult situation, and by using third-party professionals who already support vulnerable women, we can ensure it can be applied as sensitively as possible.”

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