LABOUR has accused the Scottish Government of refusing to use new powers to scrap the so-called rape clause.

The party’s social security spokesperson Mark Griffin said the SNP administration would “exasperate people” across the country by not using new powers to effectively end the "callous" two-child benefit cap.

But SNP MSPs have called on Labour to spell out exactly what they would want to see cut to fund the change.

The row was sparked after Shirley-Anne Somerville, the government’s Social Security secretary told the Times that responsibility for the benefit lay squarely with the UK Tory Government.

The two-child policy was introduced by George Osborne in his 2015 budget. It came into effect in 2017 after MPs backed the measure in the House of Commons.

It means that households claiming child tax credit or universal credit, who have a third or subsequent child born after 6 April 2017, are unable to claim a child element worth up to £2,780 a year for these children.

There is an exemption for families where that third child is conceived as a result of rape. In its first year of operation 190 women were able to bypass the cap due to this so-called rape clause.

The Scottish Government and SNP have been vociferous critics of the cap and the clause, with MP Alison Thewliss leading the campaign against it.

Somerville told the Times: “You simply can’t just mitigate against £3.7 billion worth of cuts from Westminster, which is what it will be by 2020-21,”

“People are calling for us to mitigate but we are taking this as far as we can at this point,” she added.

Asked how much it would cost to scrap the rape clause, she said: “It’s not our policy to alleviate the two-child cap."

The minister went on: “I think we need to continuously push to get these things dealt with at source rather than the assumption being that we can mitigate against this.”

When it was put to her that the SNP does not act because it is politically convenient to have this stick to beat Westminster over the head with, Somervile replied: “I don’t get any pleasure from this at all,” she says, “but I also won’t stop, because the responsibility lies in Westminster to see the damage that policy is creating.”

Griffin said: “This stubborn refusal of the SNP to take action on the two child cap will exasperate people across Scotland.

“The 2016 Scotland Act delivered new powers to our parliament that allows for the creation of new social security payments for people in Scotland.

“If the SNP government wanted to, it could effectively end the cap and scrap the rape clause, and do what we can to reverse the devastating effects of this callous policy.

“Instead, ministers are refusing to do so, despite the Scottish Parliament taking action on the bedroom tax and housing benefit cuts.

“This inconsistency will infuriate people across the country who want to see the government using its powers to protect people.”

There was support for Somerville from some of her SNP colleagues.

MSP Gillian Martin tweeted: “In 2014/15 Labour stood in the way of ALL welfare being devolved to Scotland meaning we wouldn’t be subjected to a rape clause and 2 child cap in the first place. We should be setting welfare policy not taking funds from elsewhere to mitigate welfare policy we didn’t vote for!”