THE Tory Government and Ruth Davidson may be sticking to the 'rape clause' and capping child tax credits but in Donald Trump's heartland in the United States similar welfare policies are being ditched amid concerns about their failure.

In the US the idea of limiting the amount of aid to families who had more children was implemented during an era of welfare reform in the 1990s, stemming largely from a stereotype of the ‘welfare queen’ – poor mothers supposedly dedicated to milking the system by having more children.

By 2003, 22 states had some form of family cap in place. But since then seven states have repealed these laws and more look set to follow.

Loading article content

The most recent was California, which implemented a U-turn of the maximum family grant earlier this year. State Senator Holly Mitchell, a Democrat who led the repeal, called it “a racist, classist, sexist policy”.

Massachusetts had a similar rape clause exemption in place, but the experience there had been that most parents were reluctant to say a child was conceived because of rape.

A campaign to ditch family cap legislation is also gathering momentum in Massachusetts, amid concerns it is increasing child poverty and failing to have any effect on limiting the size of families on welfare.

Critics of the child tax credit family cap in the UK say the experience of the US shows how the policy is based on “crass rhetoric” and “heartless ideology" rather than evidence.

Deborah Harris, a staff attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, a non-profit poverty law and policy centre which is campaigning for the repeal of the family cap, said: “The seven states that have repealed have in general recognised the policy was intended to defer welfare recipients from getting pregnant and having babies, but it doesn’t work – it is a completely failed policy.

“And it is a policy which has severe impacts on the most vulnerable children.”

In the US, the family cap applies to a welfare programme which provides cash benefits to certain families with children for a limited time. In Massachusetts a mother and two children on welfare receives $578 (around £450) a month. A mother with one child receives $478 (around £370) a month, but if she has another baby while claiming benefit there is no increase.

In the UK, the family cap is applicable to child tax credits, which can be claimed by families who are both in and out of work. Child benefit will still be paid regardless of family size.

Charities have calculated the family cap (which applies to third and subsequent children born from April this year, unless the mother can prove she was sexually assaulted) could result in a family of three losing £64 a week.

The so-called rape clause provoked a storm of controversy with critics saying it forces victims to endure further trauma.

Last week Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson was criticised for defending it, saying rape victims would only have to “tick a box” to claim additional benefit.

Harris also pointed out the majority of parents who had additional children while on welfare had not intended to become pregnant and in most cases were using some form of birth control.

Emma Ritch, executive director of feminist organisation Engender, said the thinking behind the family cap was “as flawed as it is heartless”.

She continued: “It puts ideology at the centre of the social security system, rather than women and children’s needs.

“It scolds and deprives families who failed to predict that they would one day be facing contraceptive failure, family breakdown, wanting children with a new partner, or bereavement."

She added: “The UK’s ‘family cap’ is copied and pasted from 1990s US policy that has failed on its own terms. Their policy was built on the myth of the ‘welfare queen’, a racialised caricature in which largely black women were accused of having multiple children to benefit from welfare.

“It did not reduce the number of people dependent on state financial assistance. Instead it deepened the poverty in which women and children were living.”

Alison Thewliss, who was SNP MP for Glasgow Central before the UK Parliament was dissolved for the election, has led the campaign against the family cap and rape clause.

She said: “The Tory plans to limit tax credits to the first two children in a family are based on crass rhetoric rather than evidence.

“US states have already found similar policies to be pushing families deeper into poverty rather than changing reproductive behaviour, and have repealed their restrictions as a result.”

She added: “The rape clause has rightly had a lot of attention in the past few weeks, as the very cruellest and most abhorrent element of a deeply flawed policy. It can't be looked at in isolation though – the judgemental two-child policy speaks to the despicable myth that the least well off in our society breed irresponsibly.

“This is an awful thing for any Government to say. The Tories seem determined to punish people for the circumstances they find themselves in."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Work and Pensions declined to comment.