Where can you offer someone a benefit worth over £2,000 per year, but nevertheless be condemned as perverse and wicked when you ask them to claim it by showing that they qualify? In the looking-glass world of the fantastical feminist far-Left, of course.
In the 2015 Budget the Chancellor said he would limit child tax credits, already unavailable to better-off families, to the first two children in respect of any child born after 5 April 2017. Because of the two years’ advance warning no existing child would be affected; furthermore, and to deal with the obvious problem that this might be unfair in cases of unintended children, the Government conceded exceptions: multiple births and the (hopefully rare) cases of pregnancy through rape. The idea makes sense, and indeed was applauded by a number of cash-strapped European governments unattracted by the prospect of continuing having to write an unlimited blank cheque in respect of unlimited numbers of children.
The result was, of course, explosive criticism. The then Labour leader Harriet Harman cannily saw the pitfalls of Labour opposing the plan and thus being seen to endorse the indefinite existence of perverse incentive to mothers to produce ever more children to be raised at the public charge. It made no difference. For her pains, she was in July 2015 likened by her party to Mao Tse-Tung or King Herod and accused of promoting “some kind of eugenics policy”. Furthermore, the elected UK Government found itself reported like a naughty schoolboy to that most democratic of bodies, the UN, with a view to its receiving a dressing-down for what one would have thought an unexceptionable democratic decision on UK tax and social policy.
But this was nothing to what happened when the Government legislated last week to confirm the new scheme and the protection for rape victims. From the feminist Left, a perfect storm on Mumsnet and in the Guardian. And shortly afterwards, a House of Commons motion to annul the entire draft tax credits regulation, spearheaded by the grievance-driven SNP through obsessive MP Alison Thewliss (whose other curious enthusiasms apparently include breastfeeding at football matches) and supported by among others the vocal Liz Saville Roberts of PC (who has previously featured here on TCW).
This episode shows the logic of the campaigning Left at its most screwball. Let me explain.
Presumably they’re not objecting to the presence of a rape exception to the two-child cap. Apart from anything, if it hadn’t been there the current objectors would have been the first to complain that it wasn’t. They would have waxed lyrical on how unfair the policy was on those, like victims of rape, who hadn’t chosen to have more than two children. No: it seems clear that the complaint is that the exception is intrusive, and (this from Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence against Women Coalition, who has also featured on TCW) that it is wrong to make women disclose and show a rape to prove their entitlement.
Now, it is true that this may be highly unpleasant. But in what way is it wrong? If a woman wishes to have her partner evicted for sexual violence, it is an unfortunate fact that she will have to allege and prove it. And so too if she wishes to claim, as she has every right to do, criminal injuries compensation from the State for having been raped – which can amount to a very considerable sum indeed. Ms Thewliss and others do not seem to object to this (nor indeed can one think of any possible basis on which they could do so). But if that is right, what is the objection to requiring the same thing in order to claim money from the State in another form, namely a tax credit? Answers on a postcard, please.
Of course, what the objectors are really trying to say is that to spare rape victims all this trauma the entire two-child cap has to go. But this equally won’t do. The rape exception will affect a tiny proportion of child tax credit claims. The argument thus comes to this: child tax credits cannot be restricted at all, because a dispensation rightly given to a tiny minority of claimants would be uncomfortable to some of them to take advantage of. It is not hard to see that this amounts to insisting that a very small tail must be given free rein to wag a very large dog, and that the argument has to be rejected.
Not that this is a point likely to make much headway with Ms Thewliss, Ms Krys and groups like www.scraptherapeclause.co.uk. Pressure groups of that kind have been in business for as long as any of us can remember with precisely this aim: making sure elected governments dance to their tune, rather than that of those who elected them. You can’t expect them to change the habits of a lifetime when faced with a rational argument, or even a majority.