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Social Workers highlight Universal Credit problems with Northern Ireland Office Minister

As part of a meeting facilitated by Gavin Robinson MP, the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW) met with Shailesh Vara MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to outline major concerns regarding the Universal Credit two-child cap and the associated ‘rape clause’ exemption.

The UK Government’s introduction of the Universal Credit two-child cap in April 2017 incorporates a series of exemptions—including for children conceived as a result of non-consensual sexual acts—commonly known as the ‘rape clause’. Social workers are among the professionals listed by the Government as third parties approved to assess claims made under the rape clause.

Unlike in Great Britain, social workers in Northern Ireland are legally required to report to the police information disclosed to them about a rape as part of a Universal Credit application.

After the meeting with Mr Vara, Martina Jordan, NIASW Professional Officer said: “It is unethical and degrading to subject a woman to disclose an incident of rape to a social worker to access benefits. However, what’s more, in Northern Ireland a woman in this situation loses the freedom to choose whether to report the offence to police, as the social worker’s hands are tied by the requirements of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967.

“There are many reasons a woman may not want a rape reported to police and compelling the disclosure of an offence is unethical. When introducing the Universal Credit two-child cap and rape clause the UK Government either failed to recognise the implications for women and social workers in Northern Ireland, or worse, intentionally overlooked them.

Ms Jordan concluded by saying: “We welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter with the Minister and thank Mr Robinson for facilitating the meeting.  However, we urgently need a commitment from Government to support the removal of the requirement to report offences declared in relation to Universal Credit applications”.


Notes to Editors

  • Andy McClenaghan, NIASW Campaigns Officer, will be available for interview.
  • The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW) is part of the British Association Social Workers (BASW), the largest professional body for social workers in the UK. The Association has 21,000 members employed in frontline, management, academic and research positions in all care settings.
  • The two-child cap for Child Tax Credit came into force in Northern Ireland on 6 April 2017. The same cap applies to the ‘child element’ of Universal Credit, which is being implemented in Northern Ireland on a phased geographical basis from September 2017 to December 2018.
  • The Department for Work and Pensions notes exemptions to the two-child cap include payment of Child Tax Credit / Universal Credit for a third or additional child resulting from a multiple birth, adoption, or a child conceived as a result of a non-consensual sexual act.
  • The Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 requires an individual with knowledge of a relevant offence—any offence for which the sentence is fixed by law or an offence where a first-time offender of 21 years or over could be sentenced to a term of five years imprisonment—to report it to the police.