Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey MP, is facing calls to apologise after cruelly claiming that forcing women to prove they were raped to receive benefits gives them an “opportunity to talk” about their traumatic ordeal.
McVey made the extraordinary remark whilst being grilled by the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee over the impact of Tory welfare policies.
Controversial welfare changes mean claimants can only receive state support for a maximum of two children, unless they can show that a third or subsequent child was conceived through non-consensual sex.
McVey defended the policy during the meeting at Holyrood, where she claimed: “What we’re doing is providing extra help where people have got more children that they couldn’t have planned, and we’re providing that extra support.
“This could give them an opportunity to talk about something that’s happened that maybe they’ve never had before, so it is potentially double support there: them getting the money they need and maybe an outlet which they might possibly need.”
Under the changes, victims of rape are made to speak to a charity worker or health professional in order to continue receiving support for a child that is conceived as a result of rape.
Charities, including Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland, have already refused to be part of the process, prompting McVey to tell MSP’s: “I do hope that some of those organisations don’t decide not to work with use because actually what we’re doing is providing extra help and support to those people.
“We will continue working to make sure that the people who need that extra benefit will get it and maybe it will be through other organisations and an extra route.”
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pension’s Secretary, Margaret Greenwood MP, called on McVey to apologise for her comments.
“Esther McVey has completely failed to address the very serious issue of woman being forced to reveal a profoundly traumatic experience to access a benefit”, she said.
“To suggest this might offer a woman ‘an outlet’ to discuss what has happened shows a lack of sensitivity and awareness of a woman’s feelings about such a violent and appalling crime.
“Forcing a burden of proof upon survivors of rape is morally wrong. Esther McVey should retract her comments and issue an apology.
“Labour will scrap the ‘rape clause’ and transform the social security system so it is there for all those who need it.”
McVey also faced questions over the DWP’s hated benefit sanctions regime. SNP MSP George Adam highlighted the case of one of his constituents who he claimed was “sanctioned because he had a heart attack“.
“In my constituency, I’ve got people who’ve been suffering constantly because of the roll-out”, he told McVey. “We’re not even a full roll-out area.”
He continued: “What about people like my constituent, who ended up getting sanctioned because he had a heart attack and was in the Royal Alexandra Hospital?”
Commenting after the meeting, George Adam said: “That was like speaking to a brick wall – despite the overwhelming evidence of the negative impact of the Tory welfare agenda, Esther McVey just insisted that all was well.
“The fact is, the botched Universal Credit roll-out is having a devastating impact on many across the country – and that’s just the latest in a long line of Tory welfare cuts.
“With our limited powers over welfare, we’re building a Scottish social security agency with dignity and respect at its heart – and we’ve refused to use the discredited sanctions regime in our new employability service.
“But the extent of Westminster cuts to the welfare state show why we need full powers over social security in Scotland – not in the hands of the Tories.”