A key topic covered throughout Conference this year was, unsurprisingly, Brexit. Read on for an overview of the themes discussed.
The Women’s Budget Group reports that Brexit risks ‘turning the clock on gender equality’. The report, entitled Exploring the Economic impact of Brexit on Women was published in partnership with The Fawcett Society and concludes that:
- A majority of economic authorities predict falls in our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of between 1.5% to 9.5% compared to staying in.
- How big the fall is will depend on the deal we strike with the EU - a ‘no deal’ being the most damaging - and on the outcome of future deals with the 65 countries we will have to negotiate separately with.
- Those deals will be done under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules which mean higher minimum tariffs: deals where we come off second best could result in a fall in the pound.
What these economic outcomes mean for us is:
- There are likely to be more public sector spending cuts - with a disproportionate impact on women, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
- Many sectors heavily dependent on EU trade have a majority female workforce - for example, NHS supplies, manufacturing, clothing and textiles.
- Much EU-originated legislation protecting equality and workplace rights in jobs typically held by women will be vulnerable to reversal.
- The same is true of consumer rights.
- Lone trade deals may mean accepting others' food standards eg US rules allowing chlorination of beef or hormones in beef.
- Overseas countries may well demand opening government contracts to their companies, losing us more public sector jobs (predominantly occupied by women) and leaving the way open for them to sue us if we try to raise the National Living Wage, for example.
- Average UK households stand to lose £580 a year - felt most severely by the poorest, usually headed by women.
What’s worse is that we also heard from the Runnymede Trust who reported that BAME women and girls will be worst affected by this, as:
- They are twice as likely to be in a single parent family.
- The level of unemployment among BAME women is 7% compared to 3% among white women.
- They are more likely to be affected by cuts to benefits and social services.
Conference attendees were also introduced to Women for a People’s Vote, launched at the start of September. Their website states that “56% of women back a People's Vote on the final Brexit deal, and with women set to lose out disproportionately from a bad deal/no deal Brexit, it is more important than ever that our voices are heard in this debate.”
They are calling for the nation to not leave Brexit in the hands of Westminster, where just 32% of MPs are women and therefore a group of women making the case for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal.
Ultimately, this all led up to the passing of a WEP Conference resolution calling for "any deal with the EU - or, absent any deal, any unilateral Brexit plan - to be subject to a meaningful parliamentary assessment and vote or, failing guarantees of such a process, a People’s Vote, with an option to Remain"
The motion also (after amends) resolved to:
- Work, if we remain in the EU, to ensure that the EU's future policies include systematic integration of equal opportunities for all women by altering decision-making rules and norms.
- Work, if we leave the EU, for the retention and improvement of rights for women gained through EU membership.
- Oppose the diminution of such rights.
Click here to view the full motion, including amendments.