The recent findings by the Women’s Budget Group and the Fawcett Society, in the report titled ‘Exploring the economic impact of Brexit on women’, highlights in stark detail how Brexit will adversely affect women as workers, consumers and as users of public services. This was the first independent report on the economic impact of Brexit on women and it makes grim reading.
Economists predict UK GDP will drop by up to 3.5 per cent if we stay in the Single Market and Customs Union and by up to 9.5 per cent if we are faced with a so-called hard Brexit. This new report examines what these predicted falls in GDP will mean for women.
The authors found that Brexit is likely to push up the cost of living, which will inevitably impact hardest on poorer households, already paying the high price of frozen benefits – another choice of the UK government. Women, as ‘shock absorbers’ of poverty, will be hit the hardest. A fall in GDP is also likely to result in further cuts to government spending. Again, as women are statistically more likely to work in the public sector and more likely to need public services women are likely to be the hardest hit as a consequence.
There are also a higher number of female workers in industries such as the textile industry, which are vulnerable to increased trade barriers, meaning an adverse impact on the predominantly female workforce.
Finally, a post-Brexit Tory government could choose to the roll back protections for workers, including equal treatment protection and rights for part-time staff.
To allay some of the problems identified in this report the government has a responsibility to amend the EU Withdrawal Bill to protect these rights from being weakened as well as learning the lessons of the impact of austerity on women.
Women’s voices were not heard during the referendum debate and are still not part of it now. The government must start putting women at the top of its list of priorities, instead of allowing them to drop further and further down the list.
Among those women to be most affected by Brexit will be the poorest women, and black and minority ethnic women. We have not seen any indications their concerns are even on the table. We must keep fighting to defend our rights, and those of the most vulnerable women.