Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, is under attack after refusing to condemn a questionnaire sent to rape victims who want to claim extra child tax credits.
Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, accused Davidson of “utterly shameful” behaviour after she sidestepped Sturgeon’s demand to repudiate the so-called rape clause linked to UK government policy that caps tax credits to a family’s first two children.
Under new Department of Work and Pensions rules passed without a vote at Westminster, women who had a third child as a result of being raped or coerced by a previous partner can only claim extra tax credits for that child if they fill out an eight-page form validated by a health professional.
Signalling the rape clause controversy will be a major campaign issue at the general election, Sturgeon said Davidson had shown her true colours by refusing to condemn an immoral policy.
“That is utterly shameful,” the first minister said. “It brings into sharp focus the key issue at the heart of the general election.
“I ask people to think about this. The rape clause has been introduced by a Tory government at Westminster with a tiny majority. If that is what a Tory government can do with a tiny majority, let us just think of the damage that an unfettered, out-of-control Tory government can do with a bigger majority.”
After first minister’s questions, Sturgeon and the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, along with MPs and MSPs from the SNP, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens, joined a protests against the policy outside Holyrood. The campaign has been championed by the SNP MP Alison Thewliss at Westminster.
One placard mocked Davidson as Jesus with four children clustered around her. Quoting “suffer the little children”, it added “this is the Kingdom of Ruth, so two of you can just fuck off now”.
Davidson resents being forced to justify a policy introduced by the UK government and has accused Sturgeon of hypocrisy.
She said Scottish ministers could use their wide-ranging welfare spending powers which would allow them to lift the cap on children’s tax credits by using existing Scottish government funds.
Sturgeon’s government has won plaudits for spending hundreds of millions of pounds offsetting other benefit cuts introduced by the UK government, including mitigating the so-called bedroom tax and reinstating council tax credits after they were abolished.
To cries of shame from her opponents, Davidson told Sturgeon: “If the first minister does not like the two-child tax policy, she can change it. But the truth is that the first minister is always happier complaining about the UK government than she is doing anything herself. The way that the SNP is readying itself to pour negativity on this country at this election is shameful.”
The tax credit limits also have exclusions for children who were adopted, or from multiple births. The UK government has promised it would implement the exemptions policy in “the most effective, compassionate way”.
Sturgeon’s officials have said they have not yet calculated the costs of removing the two-children limit, but doing so is likely to involve paying extra tax credits to any family which claims them, not just those with children born as result of rape.
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