Chris Grayling said the new welfare plans are "grounded in common sense". Photo: BBC
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Government cries "common sense" as it refuses to debate Budget plan that could require women to prove rape

Leader of the House Chris Grayling has dismissed MPs' calls to set aside time to debate what has been described as an "incredibly distasteful" policy.

Following George Osborne's Budget announcements about limiting benefits and tax credits to two children, the SNP MP Alison Thewliss noticed a proposal that made her "utterly furious". It is the idea that women who have had a third child from having been raped will have to inform the government (DWP or HMRC) so as to avoid losing their benefits and tax credits for that child.

According to Thewliss, this is tantamount to rape victims having to "justify" having a third child and prove to the government that they have been raped.

Here is the offending passage from the Summer Budget document:

Click to enlarge.

The problem here is that, although the government is claiming "protections" for women who have had a third child through rape, the onus is on the woman to claim this circumstance in order to avoid being hit by the benefits and tax credits cuts.

This would put women in the distressing position of having to tell the authorities about having been raped, and would also introduce another level of potentially damaging intrusion from government departments into the lives of welfare claimants.

As quoted in the Guardian, the Women Against Rape campaigner Lisa Longstaff highlights this:

Asking women to disclose very difficult information and expecting them to be able to prove it – in what is frankly a very hostile environment when the DWP is trying to take your money away – will have appalling consequences.

Thewliss' colleague, Kirsten Oswald MP, brought this up during Commons Business Questions (watch from 39.20), the day following the Budget. She challenged the government to set time aside for a debate on the “incredibly distasteful” proposal. Chris Grayling, Leader of the House of Commons, dismissed her call for a debate, saying the policy would be carried out sensitively.

Here is the full exchange:

Kirsten Oswald: Can I ask the Leader of the House for a debate in government time on the incredibly distasteful statement in yesterday's Budget, which will mean that a woman who has a third child as a result of rape will need to prove this to DWP in order to be eligible for tax credits?

Chris Grayling: This is an issue she has the opportunity to raise in the Budget debate. The Chancellor was very clear yesterday that this provision will be designed in a way to handle difficult cases in the most sensitive possible way. But she must also understand the necessity of putting in place a system of welfare that is grounded in common sense, that is designed to help people back into the workplace, and she will know that there have been many, many examples of people with very large families who are absolutely overt in their statements that they have had large families in order to take advantage of the welfare system. That shouldn't happen; we want those people to have fulfilling lives in work as well as in their families. 

Afterwards, Oswald was "appalled" by Grayling's response to her proposal to debate what she describes as a "disgraceful plan".

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue