Ahead of this evenings demo in George Square, Ceris Aston @insocrates argues that it’s time to stand up for our rights and for the rights of others who suffer under this bitter and brutal austerity regime.
Sometimes you wake up and feel like you’ve gone back in time – been swept into the dark ages, before workers’ rights or women’s rights, before the introduction of the Welfare State. Last week the UK government launched its new family cap on child tax credits, limiting them to a maximum of two children. It is an attack on the poor, under the guise of ‘responsible parenting’. The rhetoric of the irresponsible poor is used again and again to distract us from the ugly truth of austerity – that it is born not of necessity but of ideology. And people buy it – ‘Why should I pay to look after someone else’s kids? It’s hard enough looking after my own?’. People are distracted, blame a poor woman with three children for the struggles that they themselves face.
As with many of the other austerity measures implemented last week, the family cap betrays the very roots of the welfare state. Benefits are not a form of charity – though charities are too often now called upon to plug the gaps left by a crumbling welfare state – and they are not taken from the pockets of those who so grudgingly dole them out. They are paid for, by a process of taxation designed to ensure that when people go through hard times they are not abandoned to struggle alone. We pay in to the system, and when we are struggling, it pays out. Yet those on benefits are doubted, shamed, called scroungers and see their rights and their only means of survival stripped away.
“How vile that this government would consider putting a woman, who may already feel extremely vulnerable, in the position where she had to confess to a government official that her child had been born as a result of rape. How stigmatising, for that woman, for that child and for the family. Piling humiliation on top of pain is not the essence of ‘protection’.” – Alison Thewliss MP
There is no doubt that the Family Cap on Child Tax Credits will push women and children into poverty, while the rhetoric surrounding it exposes the classism and brutality of those who have made this decision. Yet there is an exception to the family cap rule – a so-called ‘compassionate’ exception. Should a woman be able to prove that a third or subsequent child was born of rape – ‘non-consensual conception’ – then that child will be eligible for child tax credits. Behind this, once again the notion of the ‘good victim’, of the ‘deserving poor’. Women are to be forced to recount details of their trauma – some, for the first time – in order to prove that they are not irresponsible mothers, that they merit the child tax credits for a third child. It is a choice between the trauma of disclosure and the suffering of poverty. It is not a compassionate choice and it is not a choice that any woman should ever be forced to make.
Organisations across the UK have spoken up against both the Family Cap and the Rape Clause, while in Scotland women’s organisations Engender, Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland have roundly condemned the policies. Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis were called upon by the Department of Work and Pensions to act as third party verifiers that the date of a child’s conception matched the date of rape. They refused to collude with the policy – citing its basic immorality, the risk of re-traumatising women, their fundamental position of believing the stories of victim-survivors of rape, and the damage that helping to implement this policy would do to the relationships that they have with service users. Wherever women suffer as a result of this policy – and there can be no doubt, women will suffer – the blame will lie not at the door of these organisations fighting for women’s rights, but at those of the departments set to strip these same rights away.
We rally today because we are angry. When the very institution tasked with protecting the rights of citizens is set on pushing women and children deeper into poverty, then it is right to be angry. We will not watch our hard-won rights be stripped away by a Conservative party that has redefined compassion, and welfare, so that the words are left with a bitter tang. We will stand up for our rights and for the rights of others who suffer under this bitter and brutal austerity regime. As our government seems set on turning back the clock, we will not allow the progress that generations before us have strived for to be lost.
DEMO: Scrap the Rape Clause & Family Cap, 6pm, Thurs, George Sq, Glasgow. Let’s make our voices heard. Details here.