UJK Rowling made an influential contribution to the debate on the so-called “rape clause’ by tweeting about it this week to her ten million followers. And BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg came in for criticism for a tweet accusing the SNP of trying to make political capital out of it. But despite the social media interest, the issue doesn’t seem to have the same traction in England as it does in Scotland. A petition calling for a debate in Westminster has attracted few signatures south of the border, in contrast to an impassioned debate at Holyrood, where all four main parties except the Conservatives oppose it.
The Harry Potter author shared a link to Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale’s speech on the issue in the Holyrood Parliament, saying it was a “wonderful” speech on the “pernicious” clause. (The clause is part of the family cap, introduced this month across the UK. It means low wage families who receive tax credits will get them only for two children - unless others are the result of rape, when a claim can be made.)
Dugdale reads out a moving letter from a rape victim who says she would not have been able to claim this vital support because of “the need to protect my children from the truth”. Rowling’s tweet was “liked” by more than 2,200 followers. Kahlil Marshall replied: “The strength of the survivors should be helped along, not feared and broken down...it makes me wonder about the true morality of the men who made these laws.”
Gordon Millar challenged, saying: “Fair enough to challenge benefits reform policy but v bad politics to attempt to demonise RD with rape - price will be paid at ballot box.” Mary Seibert responded to Rowling: “ I loved your books, but absolutely adore how you've chosen to use your huge voice. Thank you!”
Laura Kuenssberg the BBC political commentator came in for criticism on social media for tweeting about the rape clause when Theresa May was asked about it at the last Prime Minister’s Questions in Westminster by an SNP MP. She tweeted: “Awkward Q for May on the rape clause, SNP trying to turn it into a big campaign issue”
She had 247 replies, many of them from SNP supporters. SNP MSP Christine McKelvie replied with a link to watch, saying: “It's a moral issue not just an SNP issue.” Jim Corbyn - no relation to the Labour leader replied: “Communist china would be proud. Abortions will increase along with poverty.” But a few of the responders accused the SNP of trying to make political capital out of the issue, including one labelling the SNP “ the Scottish Nasty Party.”
Research for the Guardian suggests the cap will push a quarter of a million children into poverty. But the petition which needs 100,000 signatures for the rape clause to be debated in Parliament, has only attracted a quarter of that and most of the signatories are from Scotland. No English constituency appears to have produced more than 50 signatures.