Last week in Holyrood, Scottish Tory welfare spokesperson, Michelle Ballantyne, said she thought it was “fair” that families on benefits limit the number of children they have.
For those who are unaware of the context, she was defending the Tory policy of limiting child tax credits to the first two children. Included in this cap is the ‘rape clause’ – an exemption where women can claim for support for a third or subsequent child, if they can prove the child was conceived by rape.
This was not a slip of the tongue from Ballantyne. There is no doubt from watching the way she expressed herself, and her reiteration of it afterwards, that she truly means it. Her attitude is, simply, indicative of the Tories general attitude to welfare.
The two-child cap is inherently punishing and unfair. It takes no account of the unpredictability of life. We are all just one missed paycheck, break-up, illness, redundancy away from falling into poverty. Because of precarious work conditions, low wages, and rising house prices, more families simply do not have savings to fall back on.
Any one of us could experience a change in circumstances at any time. People do not plan to be poor. The social security system is supposed to be a safety net to catch you when you fall. The comments made by Ballantyne were deeply unpleasant, and ignorant. The two-child cap and the rape clause will apply new claimants with children of any age, starting from early next year.
In the first year, the child benefit cap has seen 3,800 families have their income reduced. Child tax credits can be worth up to £2,780 per year, so this is a serious blow to a family’s income. The Tories appalling ideology is pushing families into poverty.
As time goes on we will not doubt see more of the insidious implications of this cap for women, who will struggle to leave an abusive relationship if they are financially dependent on their partner.
Ballantyne needs to understand, it is not a simple as people who work and people don’t – “the strivers vs. skivers”. Many people who are claiming child tax credits are actually already in work, they just aren’t paid enough. Being forced to admit afterwards, that as a mother of six she claimed them herself, illustrated her breathtaking hypocrisy.
Crucially, children who need support from the state have a right to it, no matter how many brothers or sisters they have. This right is enshrined in UNCRC – a human rights convention ratified by the UK. This week’s Tory budget does nothing to restore this right to our children.
Michelle Ballantyne’s position smacks of privilege with a chillingly eugenic attitude to who is deserving of help, and who can have children.
Children will be penalised by the cap, and they have no influence over their circumstances.
There is nothing fair about pushing children and families into poverty.
The two-child cap is callous and inhumane. The Tories need to stop it now.
This is a personal column by Maree Todd, SNP MSP. All list political parties who cover Orkney have been offered the same space in The Orkney News