The first ever independent study on the impact Brexit will have on women has revealed they are likely to be hit hardest by an economic downturn, which could lead to job cuts, squeezes on family budgets and cuts to vital public services.
Published on Tuesday, the report echoes the concerns of activists and experts across the country who fear women’s rights are not being considered prominently enough in the Brexit negotiations.
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, one of the organisations to publish the report, said she feared that protections for women could be “at the bottom of the list of priorities” when it came to Britain leaving the EU.
“I haven’t heard (Brexit minister) David Davis ... talking about considering the economic impact on women or non-minority groups,” Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Women’s Budget Group, told HuffPost UK.
“Among those women to be most affected will be the poorest women, and black and minority ethnic women. I haven’t seen any indications (their concerns) are even on the table, let alone being given sufficient priority,” Smethers said.
The key findings of the report include:
That despite promises of additional money for the NHS post-Brexit, a downturn in GDP is likely to result in further cuts to government spending. Women, who are more likely to work in the public sector and more likely to need public services, will be the worst affected.
That hard-won labour rights of women could be rolled back under future plans for a competitive, highly deregulated, and flexible labour market post-Brexit, creating a “race to the bottom”.
The women workers could be adversely impacted in sectors such as clothing and textiles, which have a majority female workforce in industries that are particularly vulnerable to increased trade barriers.
A fall in the value of the pound could cost average households in the UK £580 per year, the effects of which would be felt most severely by the poorest households.
“Women are the main managers of family poverty and the shock-absorbers of poverty, and in attempting to shield their families from poverty’s worst effects women tend to bear the brunt of the effects,” the report said.
On workers’ rights, the report warns that a post-Brexit economic crisis could lead to the rolling back of protections, including parental leave, equal treatment and rights for part-time staff.
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. Sam Smethers, The Fawcett Society
“If we get a poor deal with the EU, we will be more dependent on making trade deals with other countries,” Stephenson added.
“We will be in a weaker position, which means we will be in a weaker position to resist pressure to open our markets to goods that might not meet welfare or safety standards we may already have or to reduce employment and other rights,” she added.
“Women’s voices have been not that widely heard during the whole Brexit debate. The main people who appeared as representatives of both sides of the debate were men. Women weren’t part of those discussions,” she said.
Co-published by the Women’s Budget Group and the Fawcett Society, the report states that there is a clear risk that Brexit could “turn back the clock on gender equality”.
Smethers added: “The Government must amend the EU Withdrawal Bill to protect these rights from 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.”