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Belfast: rally against cap and rape clause

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21 September 2017, rally, Belfast, end rape clause, scrap 2-child capScrap Bill that will traumatise women and put their lives in danger.

On 21 September a rally against the latest welfare cuts that target low income families is to take place in Belfast City Centre.

It is being organised by Reclaim the Agenda and Women’s Aid Federation NI, who are calling for the public to join the women’s movement and stand up against the UK government’s ‘two child cap’ policy that restricts tax credits and Universal Credit to a maximum of two children per family.

The government has also put in place a ‘rape clause’ which is an exemption for any woman who can prove to a third party assessor that she has become pregnant as a result of rape, and a stipulation that she must name the child conceived in this way is included on the application form.

Children’s rights organisations are concerned about the stigmatising of children.

And domestic violence groups believe this practice of ‘forced disclosure’ along with a requirement to no longer be living with the attacker will traumatise women and put their lives in danger.

The SNP MP Alison Thewliss, who has been campaigning against the policy at Westminster since it was first announced in 2015, will be addressing the Belfast rally.

She spearheaded a parliamentary petition calling on the UK government to ‘repeal the “family cap” measures in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, including all of its exemptions.’

This was on track to reach the threshold for a debate in parliament but was closed early due to the general election being called.

Organisations and individuals continue to lobby MPs to call for the 2 child cap to be repealed.

Northern Ireland MPs have previously signed an Early Day Motion opposing the rape clause and many campaigners are now looking to current representatives to see if they will continue to take this stance.

Jeremy Corbyn pledged to repeal the cap if the Labour Party gets into power.

And in July the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Smith, claimed that the rape clause is unworkable in Northern Ireland given the region’s unique criminal law on disclosure of information about serious crimes.

Civil society organisations united in their opposition to these measures include children’s charities, trade unions, human rights and equality groups and they are set to join the women’s movement for the rally on 21 September.

Most of the professional bodies representing healthcare workers have also heavily criticised the cap and rape clause and will be supporting the rally.

GPs, midwives or social workers may be called on to participate in ‘rape exemption’ applications, and their professional bodies have voiced their concerns that they could be liable for prosecution under section 5 of the 1967 Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland), for failing to report a crime.

Kellie Turtle, the Women’s Sector Lobbyist, said: “We aren’t prepared to accept welfare cuts aimed at low income families that demonise women and stigmatise children.

“The Department for Communities is about to implement a measure that will have a terrible impact on women and children.

“While we are fighting this policy at Westminster, in the absence of a functioning Executive at Stormont we have no choice but to take to the streets and make our voices heard.”

Louise Kennedy, policy worker at Women’s Aid Federation, said: “Requiring women to prove that they conceived a child through rape to access child tax credits is cruel and inhumane.

“The policy will re-traumatise many victims of rape, while others will simply not come forward to claim what they are entitled to, leaving them and their children in poverty.

“As this policy punishes some of our society’s most vulnerable, it’s our duty to stand together and support them.

“We have to give victims of rape and domestic abuse a voice.”

And Anne McVicker, chair of Reclaim the Agenda, pointed out that: “This policy is an attack on women and children’s rights and a cynical attempt to make financial savings off the backs of the most vulnerable.”

If you can’t make it to the actual rally, you can help by writing to or emailing your MP to call for the 2-child cap and the rape clause to be scrapped, and to ask them to sign the Early Day Motion.

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