A controversial “rape clause” in the benefit systems should be abolished in Northern Ireland, MPs have been told.
Mitigations measures that currently cover claimants impacted by the benefits cap and “bedroom tax” should be extended to the those losing out as a result of the two child limit on tax credit, experts told a joint parliamentary committee sitting at Stormont.
Parents who have had a third child since the limit was introduced are unable to claim child tax credit for that child and any further offspring.
One exemption for the rule is for children born as the result of rape.
The clause has been heavily criticised for making women declare themselves a victim of rape in order to secure a benefit.
Kelly Andrews, chief executive of Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid, told members of the Northern Ireland Affairs and Work and Pension committees that her organisation has dealt with three cases in recent times.
Ms Andrews said the two child limit was not appropriate for Northern Ireland, as families were traditionally larger in the region than elsewhere in the UK.
She said the impact of the limit could be absorbed through the introduction of a fresh mitigation support payment, added to those applied to other benefits as a result of the 2015 Stormont House Agreement.
“From the women’s sector we think that it’s unethical that we even have such a thing as a rape clause in there,” she said.
“That a woman has to retraumatise herself to disclose she has been raped is really appalling.
“And we feel that if the two child policy was abolished it would negate the need to even go down that avenue, which let’s face it is an appalling experience for anyone.”