Councillor attacks ‘barbaric’ reform

SNP councillor Debbi McCall and Conservative group leader Pauline Winchester.
SNP councillor Debbi McCall and Conservative group leader Pauline Winchester.

An SNP councillor has attacked the Conservatives over the controversial ‘rape clause’ introduced as part of child tax credit reforms.

Speaking at the recent meeting of Midlothian Council, Penicuik councillor Debbi McCall raised a motion condemning the clause, which began in April, stating that a woman could claim benefits for a third or subsequent child if it was conceived “as a result of a sexual act which you didn’t or couldn’t consent to” or “at a time when you were in an abusive relationship”.

Labelling the welfare reforms a “shambles”, Cllr McCall said: “The High Court ruled that the family benefit cap for lone parents was unlawful, discriminatory and has resulted in real damage to families. ‘Real misery to no good purpose’ was the quote from the judgement.

“It’s absolutely barbaric to make women who have been raped detail this experience on a form to satisfy the Department for Work and Pensions.

“This will have the effect of discouraging women in need from seeking assistance and causing untold harm. Real misery to no good purpose.”

Cllr Kenneth Baird (SNP) said the reforms have a “severe impact on the people we represent”, adding: “This is the kind of thing you would expect from communist China. It’s a way of limiting the population of the poor and that cannot be tolerated.”

Conservative group leader Cllr Pauline Winchester hit back, saying: “Whilst this is a national issue, and the SNP has taken us to task about using national issues previously, I will say this, the Scottish Government has the power to top up any benefit cuts yet refuses to.

“This then leads us to believe that the only reason this was brought up is to use it as a weapon which is pretty disgusting.”

Cllr John Hackett (Lab) called for the council to work with women’s groups in opposing the policy, adding: “Equally I think we should also highlight the broader impact benefit cuts are having on our communities. This is an appalling way to treat anyone that has suffered such a horrendous crime.”

Cllr Colin Cassidy (SNP) said: “I find it totally reprehensible that the Conservative party would try to defend this policy. For these woman in front of those boards, it’s absolute torture.”

The SNP and Labour councillors voted together against the Conservatives to approve the motion by 12 votes to five.

As well as condemning the rape clause, Midlothian Council will also write to Prime Minister Theresa May urging her to end the policy.