British women to lose 'fundamental rights' because of Brexit, warns human rights report

Report raises alarm bells about funding being axed for domestic violence services

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Thursday 26 July 2018 17:55 BST
The report highlights ‘employment rights’ and ‘funding for women’s services’ as being areas of particular concern
The report highlights ‘employment rights’ and ‘funding for women’s services’ as being areas of particular concern

British women could see their human rights protections and funding for services slashed when Britain withdraws from the European Union, a report has warned.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) noted Brexit could mean future equality and human rights protections from the EU are not binding in UK law and ones that already exist are eliminated.

The report – which is its most wide-ranging review into women’s rights ever – notes that although the government has pledged protections in the Equality Act, which will continue to apply once Britain leaves the EU next year, this political commitment is not actually included in the EU withdrawal bill.

“This political commitment is not included in the bill, and if passed in its current form the bill will not retain the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, resulting in a reduction in rights and remedies in domestic law,” explains the report.

The research – titled “Pressing for progress: Women’s rights and gender equality in 2018” and published on Monday – highlights “employment rights” and “funding for women’s services” as being areas of particular concern.

It also raises alarm bells about funding being axed for domestic violence services – an area of provision that has already been hit considerably by budget cuts.

One in six refuges has closed since 2010, despite 1.2 million women in England and Wales having experienced domestic abuse in the year till March last year and an average of two women being killed by their partner or ex-partner every week.

The report – which is being presented to the United Nations in Geneva on Monday – called on the government to “ensure that the loss of EU funding does not undermine the UK’s equality and human rights infrastructure, including the already scarce funding available to specialist services, such as those that support women survivors of violence and domestic abuse”.

If the Brexit bill were to be passed it in its current form, it would not contain the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which safeguards the rights to non-discrimination, the rights of children and the right to fair and just working conditions.

The watchdog also drew attention to the consequences of losing EU funding for schemes to promote gender equality and prevent violence against children, young people, women and other at-risk groups.

Wales, for example, reaps the benefits of £370m a year from the EU, which helps to address the gender pay gap there.

The comprehensive report also looks at the position of women living in the UK more generally – concluding they are being “failed” in many areas of life.

It draws particular attention to a failure in safeguarding women from violence and abuse.

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Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the EHRC, said: “It is estimated that only 15 per cent of survivors of sexual violence report their experience to the police, and social movements such as #MeToo continue to shine a spotlight on areas where women are being failed.

“The priority must now be ensuring that women and girls of all ages can enjoy their basic right to feel safe in their everyday lives. Our recommendations are intended to improve the lives of women and girls and to protect their fundamental rights.”

The research suggests changes to legal aid have had a “disproportionately adverse” impact on women.

It sets out a series of recommendations that include better support for survivors of domestic violence and making moves to improve the reporting and recording of domestic violence and abuse, and increase prosecution and conviction rates for violent crimes against women and girls.

It also calls on the government to ensure services that address the specialist needs of disabled women, black and ethnic minority women, and those with complex needs, are sufficiently funded and supported.

While the debate around leaving the European bloc has been heavily centred around the economy, less attention has been given to how it could radically change the rights of Britons.

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