Alison Thewliss

Latest articles from Alison Thewliss

Alison Thewliss: The hearts broken by May's hostile environment

THE tears flowed. The pain was real, and deep. Eyes which showed hurt, betrayal, and helplessness. The young constituent at my surgery had been broken by his long battle with the hostile environment. He had already been through unimaginable trauma, and the way he had been treated by the faceless bureaucracy of the Home Office only compounded his suffering.

Alison Thewliss: How the Tories have tried to thwart my campaign against the rape clause

THE UK’s oldest Rape Crisis centre will refuse to help officials implement the so-called “rape clause”, it has emerged. The board, management and staff of Rape Crisis Glasgow will not cooperate with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) by acting as a “third party assessor” to deliver the benefits change. Changes first unveiled by George Osborne during his time as Chancellor will prevent new claimants from receiving child tax credits for more than two children. However, an exemption will be put in place for women who can prove their pregnancies resulted from rape. The DWP says the change, which comes into force in just a few days, will be delivered “in the most  compassionate way”, with support given to eligible claimants. Social workers, doctors and specialist charities are expected to be used to gather information from those affected. However, the government has yet to set out how this will work in practice, with guidance yet to be published. But in a statement yesterday, Rape Crisis Glasgow, the longest serving centre of its kind in the UK, says it will play no part in the delivery of the policy. The centre, which helped 900 people between April and November last year alone, said: “No woman should be forced to prove her own rape, or even speak about it until she decides the time is right for her, and elects to do so to a person of her choosing. “Rape Crisis’ role is not to gather evidence for benefits claims. Our role is to provide specialist support to  survivors of sexual violence, abuse and/or exploitation.  “Indeed, we are poorly enough resourced to do this job yet we deliver a service that is second to none. It is not our job to operate as an arm of the Department of Work and  Pensions.” The statement comes days after leading organisations issued a joint letter to peers in the House of Lords calling for a re-examination of  the rule. Umbrella organisation Rape Crisis Scotland, equality group Engender and Scottish Women’s Aid urged the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee to scrap the clause, which passed into law without debate in the House of Commons. The letter said the UK Government provided “little, if any, explanation of its rationale” for the policy and branded the month-long consultation on the issue “inadequate”. The groups claim rape clause will “retraumatise” survivors of sexual violence by forcing them to disclose rape “at a time and in a context not of (their) own choosing, on pain of deeper impoverishment”, potentially harming their mental health. On assessment, the letter said: “As a national organisation, Rape Crisis Scotland will not be performing this function, and contends that forcing rape survivors to disclose sexual violence in order to access social security payments is inhumane.  “Scottish Women’s Aid has just been approached by the Department for Work and Pensions to discuss implementation and has agreed to a discussion. “Their existing stance, however, is that this policy cannot be made ‘acceptable’ to anyone who values women’s and children’ dignity and rights.” Rape Crisis Glasgow told The National it expects other specialist groups throughout the UK to join its refusal to participate. Rape Crisis England and Wales could not be reached for comment. However, Leicester Rape Crisis emphasised the confidential nature of its relationship with service users. A member of staff added: “I can’t see that we would be able to be of  any help.” A spokesperson for the DWP said: “It’s absolutely right that we have the right exemptions in place and we have thought carefully about how we will work with charities and health and social care professionals to support victims of rape.  “We will be publishing guidance shortly.”