‘Women are likely to be harder hit by a ‘hard Brexit’ than men…And the impact is also likely to be more negative for BME people’.
This is from our contributor, Dr Sara Reis from the Women’s Budget Group on the economic impact of Brexit on women for our Gendering Brexit Blog series.
Summer headlines were dominated by the government’s plans and preparation for a no-deal Brexit. Documents were released with contingency plans for households and businesses across a wide range of areas. But there was something missing. There was still no assessment of the impact that different forms of Brexit will have on women, or other social groups.
This is a major omission. As research from the Women’s Budget Group and the Fawcett Society has shown, Brexit will have a different impact on women and men and a hard ‘no deal’ Brexit is likely to be particularly damaging.
Women in the labour market
We still don’t know what form (if any) a post-Brexit deal with the EU will take so we can’t know exactly what the gender impact will be. But we do know that women and men have different employment patterns and they tend to work in different job sectors. It is sometimes assumed that men will be hardest hit by Brexit as many of the manufacturing sectors that rely heavily on UK-EU trade – such as construction, metals and chemicals – are male-dominated.
However, in its most recent Brexit analysis, the IPPR finds that women are likely to be harder hit by a ‘hard Brexit’ than men. Women are the majority of employees in service sectors such as education, health and care – larger sectors that will suffer indirectly from new trade barriers. The impact is also likely to be more negative for BME people, who are also more likely to work in services.
Whilst Brexit is expected to have a negative impact across all socio-economic groups, it may also bring new opportunities in specific sectors. But opportunities are more easily and readily taken up by people with transferable skills, mobility capacity and resources (i.e. money and time). Women tend to have less resources than men and be less able to move for work due to care responsibilities towards children and ill and elderly relatives.
Brexit will hit consumers
When it comes to their role as consumers, women will also be specifically affected by Brexit. Women are more likely to be poor than men and they also tend to have main responsibility for buying and preparing food for their families. In the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit – where the UK would have to apply the same tariffs to food from the EU as from the rest of the world, and the value of the pound is likely to be hit – food prices will rise. The poorest will be harder hit by rising food prices as they spend a higher share of their income on food (23% of poorest households’ expenditure is on food, compared to 10% of the richest).
Women are also likely to be hit as the primary users of and the majority of workers in public services. Just last week, Philip Hammond warned of public spending being cut in other areas to pay for Brexit preparations, whilst urging departments to shift money around to prioritise ‘no-deal’ Brexit contingency plans. And if the UK economy takes a hit when we leave the EU – as every academic study and the government’s own analysis says it will – this will have a disproportionate impact on women.
Public services provide crucial support in people’s lives, including for some of the most vulnerable individuals and families. When the government cuts spending on these, three things happen: employees on these services are sacked, many people’s care needs go unmet, and the amount of care work provided by individuals informally to their relatives and friends increases.
Women are disproportionately affected by all three: they are the majority of workers in heavily cut public sectors such as health, education and social and childcare. Women tend to live longer, so they need health and social care more. Women also pick up the slack with unpaid care work when public services are cut down.
The economic and political situation of the UK post-Brexit is expected to impact negatively on all socio-economic groups across the board. However, women are likely to face specific and in some cases disproportionate challenges as workers, consumers and service users due to their disadvantaged position in society.
Investing in social infrastructure, by adequately funding high-quality public childcare, social care, health services and education, is a long-standing recommendation of the Women’s Budget Group. Investing 2% of GDP in such social infrastructure would create 1.5 million jobs. It would relieve many women’s unpaid care burden and result in a healthier, better educated population. It is also more effective in reducing public debt and boosting economic growth than austerity policies.
This investment should happen regardless of Brexit, but it is now more urgently needed than ever to mitigate some of Brexit’s worst predicted effects on women and the economy.
The views expressed in this blog series may not necessarily reflect EDF’s official positions.
Dr Sara Reis is research and policy officer at the Women’s Budget Group, where she recently produced a report on the causes and consequences of poverty for women. She has completed her PhD in Politics at the University of Sheffield, focusing on the role of women’s organisations in the gender mainstreaming process.
If you would like to contribute to our Gender and Brexit Blog series, get in touch at: firstname.lastname@example.org.