MSPs’ fury over McVey’s ‘rape clause’ comments
Holyrood: Tory work and pensions secretary heckled at Scottish Parliament as she tries to defend Universal Credit
A UK minister was heckled in the Scottish Parliament for suggesting the “rape clause” gives victims a chance to talk about their ordeal.
Esther McVey, the secretary of state for work and pensions, was interrupted repeatedly by protesters as she tried to defend the roll-out of Universal Credit and the exemption for sexual assault victims claiming child benefit.
The angry outbursts led to Holyrood’s social security committee being suspended twice for order to be restored.
Ms McVey refused an invitation to apologise for “suffering and distress that has been caused” by the introduction of Universal Credit.
That triggered fury from the public gallery about claimants who had committed suicide and had payments suspended for missing appointments.
“I am not oblivious to people who are incredibly vulnerable or who are in need,” the work and pensions secretary said when the meeting reconvened.
She said the DWP distributed nearly £200 billion a year, adding: “Eighty thousand people are working there to make sure that we reach out to the most vulnerable.
“If anybody does not get that support it’s not through lack of trying, because that’s what people are employed to do.”
There were also howls of protests from the gallery over Ms McVey’s comments on the two-offspring limit for child benefit entitlement and associated rape clause, which led to a further delay in proceedings.
She said the clause offered women potentially “double support” through payments and an opportunity to talk about the ordeal that they may have “never had before”.
Speaking after the meeting, Alison Johnstone, the Green MSP, said: “I asked the minister if she was comfortable that women have to prove non-consensual conception in order to access a benefit, and she responded by talking about providing support, which totally misses the point.”
Labour MSP Pauline McNeill said: “To badge up the vile rape clause as some sort of virtuous policy to provide support is simply skin-crawling.”
George Adam, the SNP MSP, described the minister’s assessment that Universal Credit is working well for the “vast majority” of recipients” as “devoid of reality”.
He said the roll-out of Universal Credit, which has led to delays to people receiving their entitlement, had caused “financial mayhem”.
Earlier, the Tory minister said there were contingency measures in place in case the Scottish Government is not ready to assume full control of certain benefits by 2021, as agreed under the transfer of £2.7bn worth welfare powers to Holyrood.
UK work and pensions secretary Esther McVey speaking at the Holyrood committee meeting.