The chancellor’s announcement in this year’s budget that the child element of tax credits and universal credit will no longer be awarded for third and subsequent children born after 6 April 2017 is already highly controversial. The effect will be to take up to £2,780 per child per year from working families in receipt of tax credits.
The chancellor attempted to root his approach in a notion of fairness, emphasising that it is “important to be fair to the many working families who do not see their budgets rise by anything like that [sum] when they have more children”. But that is to compare apples to oranges and to overlook need. The implication is that if families on tax credits choose to have a third child, they should be treated, at the same time, as consciously choosing to be poorer.
The cost of welfare is thus to be reduced by policing bedrooms up and down the country. There are many reasons why the chancellor’s analysis is unacceptable and unfair but, even on his own analysis, it presents a problem. What to do about children born of rape?
Hidden away in paragraph 2.103 of the “red book” (the budget) is the following sentence: “The Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC will develop protections for women who have a third child as a result of rape, or other exceptional circumstances.”
In other words, a rape test will be introduced into our welfare law. The implication being that those mothers who can provide evidence of rape will not have their tax credits removed, presumably because they did not choose to have a third child.
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