Department for Work and Pensions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:14 pm on 2nd July 2019.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:14 pm, 2nd July 2019

None of the families in this report could really have predicted their circumstances when they had their children, and this has been acknowledged by the Government, because they said that if the child was born after the cut-off date in April 2017, it would be unfair to bring this in. They have acknowledged that it is unfair for some families but not for all families, but if they acknowledge it is unfair for some, they should just scrap this brutal policy for all and for ever.

Despite all this, families are trying to cut back. They are trying their best to get by. One parent said:

“We try our best to make sure— the children—

“are well fed and pick up the leftovers if they leave anything, or just toast.”

So families—parents—are living on just toast, at best. What kind of society is this that the Minister presides over? Families are not able to pay their bills and are going into arrears—into debt—which means they risk going into homelessness and losing the roof over their head. They are relying on other members of the family to try to support them. One woman said:

“At 36 years old you shouldn’t have to rely on your mum and dad” to feed the children. People are going into debt because they are not able to pay for things because there is no spare money. They are going into debt on credit cards and with the other types of lenders. Families are so far away from being able to pay for these things that it puts tremendous financial strain on them.

The two-child limit also has an impact on other members of the family. Other children feel as though they are losing out because of their baby brother or sister. That is really quite sad. It gives me a lot of pain to think that children feel as though they are losing their ability to go out and have fun, to live their lives, to go swimming or to do anything else they want to go to, because their parents were unfortunate enough to have a third child. That is absolutely appalling, and it affects families’ mental health and wellbeing, as I have said.

The two-child limit has lots of other impacts. There is good evidence from the survey—which should concern all Members, regardless of their opinions on the policy—that families are choosing to abort healthy babies because they are worried about how the two-child limit is going to affect them. [Interruption.] Michelle Donelan shakes her head on the Front Bench, but there is evidence. She should read the report and do something about it.

There are also issues for women who have come through refuges—through domestic abuse—and who have to use the rape clause to claim for a third child. Nobody should have to fill in a form to prove that they were raped, just to put food on the table. That is unacceptable, and the Government’s policy is despicable. Last year, 190 women were forced to fill out the form. The figures are not yet out, so I do not know how many women are affected this year, but my bet is that it will be more.

The impact of the rape clause is such that those 190 women are not even all the women who are likely to be eligible for support. There is in the report a good and heartbreaking case study about a woman called Sabrina. The name has been changed, but it says Sabrina in the report so that is the name I shall use. It says:

“Sabrina had been experiencing abuse at the hands of her husband for almost a decade when she and her two young children came to a Women’s Aid member refuge in England. Whilst in the refuge, Sabrina discovered that she was pregnant…Sabrina wept at the news—tears of anxiety and worry about how she was going to cope financially when she eventually moved out of the refuge. Sabrina knew that, because of the two-child limit, she would struggle to bring a third baby into the world. She couldn’t bear the thought of having to tell the government how the child was conceived—out of abuse and fear—in order to get the money she was entitled to. Soon, she packed her family’s bag with the few belongings they had and returned to the home she had shared with her abuser, utterly defeated.”

That is not a situation that this Government should be putting women in. They should be helping women out of abusive relationships, not sending them straight back to their abusers for fear of losing out. I do not want to hear about how a form can be changed and what could happen to make the process better; it should not exist at all. There should be a universal support system for everybody, and that is why it is such a fundamentally important issue.

Although I know that others wish to speak, I could go on all afternoon about the injustices of the two-child policy, because it also affects religious minorities who cannot or will not use contraception or abortion, and it affects refugee families, who come here, wait a long time to be processed, and then find that they are not able to get the entitlements that they had hoped to get to support themselves and their families. The impact of the policy is devastating, and it disproportionately affects families who are already in work. The Minister should look at the report, look at the evidence and scrap the two-child policy, and the rape clause that stands part of it, immediately.