Women for a People’s Vote

Date Posted: Tuesday 16th October 2018

A guest blog by Rachel Franklin, Director of Women for a People's Vote


As the UK lurches towards Brexit, it is becoming increasingly clear that women will be harder hit than men by leaving the EU. Women, now and in the future, face a cut in living standards, threats to their jobs and public services and a loss of hard won rights.

While women have the most to lose, their voices are not being heard. Male voices dominate the Brexit debate, both in Parliament and the media.

Although in the 2017 election more women than ever were elected to Parliament, they remain in the minority: only 32% of MPs are women. The situation is even worse in the House of Lords where only 26%, of peers are women. In the government departments responsible for delivering Brexit, men dominate not just at ministerial level, but also behind the scenes. Among the senior civil servants in the Exiting the EU and International Trade Departments and in the Cabinet Office, there is on average a 17% gap between the number of male and female staff.

But it is not just the decision-makers who are predominantly male but also the primary interlocuters between citizens and policy-makers: men dominate the UK media and outnumber women by 4 to 3 in the parliamentary press gallery.   Analysis of guests on the major political TV programmes since the EU referendum also shows that, on average, 59% of guests were male. It is clear that women do not have as many column inches or as much air time to discuss political issues; their views, analysis and comment is too often drowned out.

That half the UK’s population is inadequately represented in the Brexit debate is all the more worrying because it is women who will be most negatively affected by leaving the EU.

A key area where women could feel a Brexit hit, is its effect on the National Health Service. Women make up 77% of its workforce, but also access its services more than men because of their use of maternity and children’s service and because they live longer. Brexit will damage the UK economy and a knock-on effect will be less money for the NHS. This in turn will lead to longer waiting times, overcrowded hospitals and substandard care.

Recruitment and retention of key NHS staff is already being undermined by Brexit. Since the vote 1,000 EU nurses and midwives have left the NHS and our analysis suggests that it will lose a further 4,500 by 2022. In the view of the British Medical Association, Brexit is a “major threat to the NHS and the health of our patients”.

Staff shortages could leave the NHS unable meet social care needs.  The Department of Health has warned that this could lead to a decrease in labour market participation among women, forced to leave their jobs to take over caring responsibilities.

It is clear that Brexit is already having a detrimental effect on the British economy. Typically when the economy is struggling, women are usually the hardest hit. Research for Women for a People’s Vote, found that Brexit is pushing inflation up and wages down and stretching the gender pay gap, with women’s income falling by an expected average of £1,250 annually.  Uncertainty about Brexit is already leading to rising household energy bills and consumers can expect hikes in the costs of flights and hotels abroad, travel insurance and mobile phone roaming charges.

Brexit also threatens jobs now and future job creation. A study by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) predicts that Brexit estimates that almost 900,000 women’s jobs are at risk across all industry sectors.

The EU has long played a role in developing and protecting the rights of women in the workplace but these hard-fought protections are threatened by Brexit. Not only does a reckless Brexit put our existing rights at risk it also means that we will miss out on any future benefits agreed by the EU for EU citizens.

Women in the UK currently benefit from EU legislation on equal pay for equal rights, on pregnancy, maternity and parental leave and on gender discrimination. If the UK leaves the EU, any future UK government will be free to dismantle or weaken these vital safeguards. Of the current ministers in the departments for Exiting the European Union, International Trade and the Cabinet Office (the three departments leading on Brexit), none have voted to support key parliamentary divisions intended to strengthen women’s rights in Britain. With this track record, it’s hard to believe that women’s priorities are being taken seriously in the Brexit process.

The People’s Vote and The Independent March for the Future will take place on 20 October 2018, 12pm (midday), Park Lane, London.

More details about the march can be found here.

Written by Rachel Franklin.

Rachel is Campaign Director at Women for a People's Vote, which launched in September. It is demanding that politicians give women the right to shape their own future and have a say on the final Brexit deal.