Why doesn't the rape clause affect the Duchess of Cambridge?
A woman whose income comprises of state benefits discovers she’s pregnant with her third child and her heart sinks. She starts tallying up her bank account’s outgoings, adding on another body to clothe and mouth to feed. Now that the new child tax credit rules have come into force, she knows the deal. She won’t receive any financial help at all unless she proves to the DWP that the pregnancy is the result of a rape.
The Duchess of Cambridge has an income that comprises solely of state benefits and has just announced her third pregnancy. She will have no such conversation with herself, no back and forth about whether she can afford to go ahead with the pregnancy or facebook posts asking if anyone has any second hand baby clothes. She will not have to prove to anyone that she has been raped in order to receive government assistance.
I like the Queen as much as I like any older lady with a love for colourful hats. I wish the royal family no ill will as individuals; especially Harry, who has the air of someone who finds the arrangement more than faintly ridiculous. I hope Kate has a healthy pregnancy and an incident-free birth. But the existence of the royal family is the existence of a structure that says some people are better than others just because. They are aspirational but the game is rigged; we can never be them, no matter how hard we work. I can’t be born again and come back as a Windsor.
“The royal family do so much for this country,” a colleague told me recently. “It’s unreal how hard they work.” I understand that perception. They work long hours, shaking thousands of hands and pretending to be interested in people they will never be able to relate to. It’s not that different from working in the hospitality industry, really. Except the Queen’s income was £42.8 million last year. I don’t think many glass collectors and waitresses make that.
I’ve been to Windsor Castle and I’ve seen the crown jewels in the Tower of London. I’ve passed by Buckingham Palace and visited Glamis. I’ve never met a member of the royal family, or even seen one loitering in the grounds, and I wouldn’t expect to. If we abolished the monarchy tomorrow, would these tourist spots see visitor numbers dwindle? Unlikely; the buildings are rich with the history of past kings and queens without requiring that one currently sit on the throne. If we pumped £42.8 million into any aspect of the tourism industry, it would attract people from all over the world, whether it’s the monarchy or mountain biking.
The monarchy fundamentally undermines our democratic system. To work towards reforming the House of Lords while an unelected figurehead opens the House of Commons every year is counter-intuitive. She has no real power in government any more, no constructive contribution to make. I’ve always secretly wished she could step in when needed to put her foot down and give prime ministers a public scolding; at least she’d be earning her keep.
The announcement of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge extending their family came the same week McDonald’s workers went on strike to secure enough money to live on. The poorest incomes will fall by 2% over the next four years and the richest will rise by 5%. The Queen’s income will increase to over £70 million due to repairs being carried out at Buckingham Palace. Money isn’t just about the practicality of paying your phone bill and taking the kids on holiday every year, but freedom itself. It is freedom from the nights you lie and wonder how you’ll afford a birthday present for your mum or something that isn’t toast for your main meals that week; freedom to make choices about your life and, in the case of the rape clause, your body.
The Tory grumbles of, “Don’t have kids unless you can afford them” seem like common sense but don’t account for the change in circumstances that can hit any family. Maybe you could afford three kids when you had them, but now your husband has left you. A third baby wasn’t a strain when you had a management job but you were laid off in that last round of cuts and your severance only covers so many months’ mortgage.
Money seems to lose significance when we talk about it in the millions of pounds. Boris Johnson’s bizarre drive to build a “garden bridge” across the Thames at the request of his childhood friend Joanna Lumley wasted £37.4 million of public money in development before being sensibly scrapped by Sadiq Khan. We know how likely it is that he will be held accountable for this huge hole in the public purse (*hint* not at all). When I worked for a supermarket, one of my colleagues was instantly dismissed for taking four sausage rolls.
“I work hard for my money” becomes a more common justification for the wealth divide the higher up the income bracket you climb. Grafting only really counts if you’re rich; if you’re on a low income, what you do is valued so little that your wage is like a consolation prize from your employer, forced upon them by the Minimum Wage Act. As the rape clause comes into effect, I’m thinking about all the mothers having to discuss their sexual assault with a stranger in exchange for having the basic needs of their child met, a thought that will never have to cross the minds of the royal family because they’re just better than us.