Brexit risks 'turning the clock back on gender equality'

By agency reporter
March 30, 2018

The first independent report looking at the economic impact of Brexit on women has been published by the Women’s Budget Group and the Fawcett Society. The report shows the economic impact of Brexit will hit women hard, leading to lost jobs, cuts to services and a squeeze on family budgets.

Economists predict UK GDP will be between 1.5 per cent and 3.5 per cent lower if we stay in the Single Market and Customs Union and up to 9.5 per cent lower as a result of a no-deal ‘hard Brexit'. This new report examines for the first time what this fall in GDP will mean for women. It warns that:

  • Sectors such as clothing and textiles which have a majority female workforce are particularly vulnerable to increased trade barriers.
  • Despite promises of additional money for the NHS post-Brexit, a downturn in GDP is likely to result in further cuts to government spending on services. Women, who are more likely to work in the public sector and more likely to need public services, will be the worst affected.
  • Increased tariffs and a fall in the value of the pound are likely to lead to increased food prices, which will hit the poorest families hardest. Women are more likely to be poor and more likely to manage budgets in poor households.
  • A post-Brexit economic crisis could lead to the rolling back of workplace rights, including parental leave, equal treatment and rights for part time workers on which women rely in the name of increased ‘flexibility’ and ‘competitiveness’.

The report also warns that a poor deal with the EU would put the UK in a weaker position to resist pressure from other countries for trade deals that would damage women’s rights at work, adversely impact them as consumers or undermine the quality of public services including:

  • Provisions in trade deals that give oversees companies the power to sue the UK government if it took action that would damage the profitability of those companies such as increasing the National Living Wage or bringing services that have been privatised back in house.
  • Opening up of the NHS and other public services to overseas competition.
  • Removal of consumer rights preventing the import of chlorine washed chicken or hormone fed beef.

Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the Women’s Budget Group said, “There is little doubt that Brexit will have a damaging impact on the UK economy, with a ‘hard Brexit’, likely to be the most damaging. For many women, particularly the poorest, this could mean job losses, cuts to services, squeezed family budgets and reduced legal protections. Far from taking back control, a bad deal with the EU will make us vulnerable to demands from larger countries to reduce consumer rights and regulations protecting public services.”

Sam Smethers, CEO of the Fawcett Society said, “This report clearly shows we risk turning the clock back on gender equality as a result of Brexit. In the context of any economic downturn the argument will be made that sacrificing employment rights and protections is justifiable to make some workers more employable.  Those vulnerable workers will overwhelmingly be women, so we cannot allow that to happen. That is why the Government must amend the EU Withdrawal Bill to protect these rights form being weakened post-Brexit.”

“It is the most disadvantaged women who are most at risk from Brexit. But will they be the ones the UK negotiating team are thinking about?  I doubt it.”

The Women’s Budget Group scrutinises government policy from a gender perspective. It is a network of leading feminist economists, researchers, policy experts and campaigners committed to achieving a more gender equal future.  

* Read Exploring the economic impact of Brexit on women here

* The Women's Budget Group https://wbg.org.uk/

* The Fawcett Society https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/

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