With the start of the new financial year this month, a number of social security changes have come into effect which are, quite frankly, appalling.
These are changes which were announced some time ago – and indeed I’ve written about them here before – but nonetheless the Tory Government did their level best to sneak them through with the minimum of attention.
For instance, as of this month, child tax credits are capped at two children, so no additional child born after 5 April will get support.
This amounts to social engineering – arbitrarily discriminating against a family with three or more children and depriving children of thousands of pounds of support.
But the knock-on consequences of the two-child policy are even more awful and unfair – not least the so-called rape clause.
For those of you not familiar with the Tory rape clause yet, it is every bit as bad as it sounds - and when you try and explain it to people, it really is difficult to believe that any government anywhere could implement such a policy.
Women who have a third or subsequent children will still be able to claim child tax credits in some circumstances – but only if they can prove to an official that the child was conceived as a result rape.
Just think about that. Imagine having gone through an experience as traumatic as rape – and then being forced to relive that experience by filling out a form and revealing it to someone whom you have possibly never met before.
No woman should ever be put through such an ordeal.
Similarly, it is unacceptable that any professional – whether they are a social worker, a nurse or a charity worker – should be put in the position of having to ask such deeply personal questions.
The Tory government haven’t even thought how they will offer any proper sexual violence awareness training for those they expect to implement this policy – they have just been left to get on with it.
So, it’s no surprise that organisations representing many of these workers – including the Royal College of Nursing, Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid - have spoken out so strongly against it.
This is of course the same Tory government which brought us the Bedroom Tax, humiliating Work Capability Assessments for sick and disabled people, and who have left people suicidal with their brutal sanctions regime.
But even by these appalling standards, the rape clause is a new low.
And it is utterly shameful that the Scottish Conservatives have meekly offered their support.
Ruth Davidson used to boast that she would not be afraid to speak out against UK Government policy if she disagreed with it – so by giving the rape clause her full backing, we must assume she genuinely believes in it.
The Tories claim that there is no money to give financial support to these low-income families – yet in the very same budget they introduced the rape clause, they also introduced sweeping tax cuts for the highest earners south of the border. The Scottish Tories wanted these tax cuts implemented in Scotland too.
We will continue to speak out against the two-child cap, and all of the other benefit changes which are doing so much damage – and I was heartened to see hundreds of people turn out in George Square last week to protest this policy.
But don’t think that the Tory Government will back down easily. Let’s remember they fought families of disabled children all the way to the Supreme Court trying to force them to pay the Bedroom Tax.
This was a deeply unedifying act which itself cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees – money which, ironically, could have instead been used to support those families.
In Scotland, we have used the powers we already have to fully mitigate the bedroom tax to ensure that no family has to pay it – in fact we’re spending over £100m a year from the Scottish Budget mitigating some of the worst welfare cuts.
Of course, some social security powers are being devolved to Scotland – and we are in the process of designing a completely new system which will be based around dignity and respect.
But in many other areas, powers over tax and benefits – including child tax credit - will remain with the Tories at Westminster.
So long as the UK Government introduces such vindictive, ill-thought out policies which will cruelly target sick people, those with disabilities and those on very low incomes, we are fighting poverty in Scotland with one hand tied behind our backs.
I don’t think any of us want to live in a country where women who have been raped must reveal that traumatic experience to a stranger in order to access financial support for their child, or where people with disabilities are forced to go through repeated humiliating assessment procedures.
Whatever moral compass this Tory government once claimed to have, it seems to have completely disappeared.