THE Westminster government has been attacked over the 'rape clause' by the the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

In a letter to employment minister Damian Hinds, EHRC CEO Rebecca Hilsenrath describes tax credit changes as “regressive” and called for a rethink.

She insists the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) did not carry out “sufficiently detailed” impact assessments and warns the policy change could breach EU human rights laws.

Campaigners have welcomed the intervention and demanded the DWP scrap the “inhumane” policies. The family cap limits tax credits to only two children per family – unless the mother can prove that a third child was conceived as a result of rape or when she was in an abusive relationship.

Hilsenrath said: “In our view the exception raises serious issues in relation to a child and mother’s right to private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The exception, which purports to prevent women from being penalised requires, in our view, invasive reporting requirements of intimate details.

“Children who may not be aware that they were born of rape may well become aware through this process and through the creation of a record.

“We consider that there has been a failure to fully consider the impact of the implementation of this exemption, including the potentially traumatic process for having eligibility assessed and the risk of re-traumatisation upon survivors of rape.

“This system would rely upon women, who we know from statistics are overwhelmingly unlikely to report rape to police, reporting it to Department for Work and Pensions.

“The approach also does not account for children born of an ongoing abusive relationship, where women may not exercise power over decisions on how many children to have – and when.”

Hilsenrath said the impact assessment published by the DWP “was not sufficiently detailed to support proper scrutiny of the legislation”.

She added: “In particular it failed to mention the Public Sector Equality Duty, how its aims would be achieved, how the potential impact will be monitored or how adverse impact identified after implementation would be tackled.

“There was no evidence provided to support DWP's assumption that the measures will incentivise families to only have two children if they cannot afford to have more.

“The policy could also have a disproportionately adverse impact on some religious groups, in particular those for whom family planning may be against their religious teachings. This may mean that children in some religious communities are more likely to be brought up in poverty.”

SNP MP Alison Thewliss, who has led the campaign to scrap the changes to UK Child Tax Credits, said: "I am glad that the EHRC has backed the calls for the DWP to rethink these vile policies, which are quite clearly a violation of fundamental human rights and contrary to the best interests of children.

"The EHRC has also recognised the situation in Scotland, where specialist agencies have expressed concerns about both the principle of the policy and the lack of sexual violence training and guidance provided by the UK Government to the third party professionals who are expected to carry out the traumatic rape assessment process. There are still no assessors confirmed in Scotland due to these deep misgivings.

"The two-child limit will drag hundreds of thousands more children below the poverty line, leaving working families unable to make up for the cut. The trauma and stigma that the rape assessment process will cause both survivors and children of rape is unthinkable.

"I have been pointing out the flaws in this brutal policy over the past twenty-one months. That the Tories haven't even attempted to consider how these changes will affect some of the most vulnerable women and families in this country demonstrates a contemptible lack of compassion and human decency.

“It’s time for the DWP to stand up for the dignity and human rights of women and their families and scrap these inhumane policies once and for all.”

A UK government spokesman said: “Our welfare reforms are incentivising work, as that’s the best way to help people improve their lives, restoring fairness and ensuring everyone can access the support they need.

“This reform means people on benefits have to make the same choices as those supporting themselves solely through work.

“But we have always been clear this will be delivered in the most effective, compassionate way. That’s why we have the right exceptions and safeguards in place, including the crucial exception to protect women who are faced with very difficult circumstances.

“The policy was debated, and voted on, in Parliament, and the exceptions were consulted on widely.”