Brexit will ‘turn the clock back’ on gender equality, report finds

Caitlin Logan

Gendered analysis budget experts say women will be hit hardest by Brexit

THE ECONOMIC impacts of Brexit will hit women hardest and take gender equality backwards, a report by the Women’s Budget Group and the Fawcett Society has said.

The report examines the likely impact on women of the different possible Brexit deal scenarios, an analysis which the writers say has yet to be laid out by the government.

Women could be faced with job losses, cuts to services and reduced family budgets, and a whole host of other challenges as a result of leaving the EU, according to the analysis.

The “least damaging” scenarios for women would be those closest to the situation under EU membership, while a ‘no deal’ scenario would have the worst impact.

Composed of a network of leading feminist economists, researchers, policy experts and campaigners, the organisations have identified that Brexit risks a rolling back of workers’ rights, including parental leave, equal treatment and rights for part-time workers, all of which could have a particularly stark impact on women.

READ MORE: “Tinkering at the margins”: Budget does not do enough for women, campaigners say

For this reason, the report urges the UK Government to ensure that Brexit legislation safeguards against any steps backwards on workplace rights.

Sam Smethers, CEO of the Fawcett Society commented: “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 analysis suggest that sectors such as clothing and textiles, in which women make up the majority of the workforce, are at greatest risk of increased trade barriers.

Meanwhile, food prices are likely to increase as a result of increased tariffs and a fall in the value of the pound, which, the report suggests, is likely to hit women hardest as they are most likely to have lower incomes and manage budgets in poor households.

A fall in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the report argues, is likely to lead to further cuts to public services, which are more likely to employ and be used by women.

READ MORE: Women’s advocacy group lament “uncertainty” of women’s rights post Brexit

International trade deals could give companies similar powers to those which were widely opposed in the form of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (Ttip), allowing them to sue the government if its policies were damaging to their profits. This could prevent moves which would stand to benefit women most, such as an increase in the National Living Wage, or bringing privatised services back into public ownership.

The report also highlights the risk of opening the NHS and other public services up to overseas competition, something which could impact on Scotland due to UK Government plans to bring public procurement powers which fall under a devolved competency back to Westminster instead of Holyrood.

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.”

In response to the outcome of the Brexit vote, the Fawcett Society launched the #FaceHerFuture campaign, which brings together over 20 organisations, including the Women’s Budget Group, to ensure that the rights of women and girls are protected and progressed as the UK leaves the EU. 

Picture courtesy of Arno Mikkor

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