Brexit: social and equality impacts

This independent report focuses on some of the potential social and equality impacts of Brexit.


It is widely understood that any significant political or economic change will create 'winners' and 'losers', i.e. it will advantage some people while disadvantaging others. The UK's decision to leave the EU is no exception, though the number of clear-cut 'winners' is difficult to establish; due to uncertainty around the form that Brexit will take (but which, according to some commentators, could include certain investors[2] and businesses that are internationally-focussed and able to adapt[3]).

The number of potential 'losers' from Brexit is also difficult to fully anticipate, but appears to be far broader, due to the Bank of England's analysis that UK GDP growth has slowed "because of Brexit-related factors"[4] and the UK Government's analysis on the long-term economic impact of Brexit, which forecast that a FTA (hard) Brexit or a WTO (no-trade deal) Brexit could result in slower economic growth and GDP being between 4.9% and 9.3% lower compared to staying in the EU.[5] Any negative impact on the UK's economic performance could result in reductions in public spending, cuts to public services and job losses. Furthermore, the UK's decision to leave the EU – whereby it will no longer be subject to EU law or rulings by the European Court of Justice – means that UK citizens (and EU nationals in the UK) are likely to lose a package of EU-derived legal rights that have to date formed their European citizenship.

Whether they are 'winners' or 'losers', Brexit is likely to affect every person in the UK, due to the far-reaching (and as yet, difficult to fully anticipate) social and economic implications and the anticipated significant changes to the UK's legal framework of rights. However, it has also been widely argued that Brexit will disproportionately affect certain groups who are 'more at risk than others from economic impacts and a loss of rights and protections.'[6]

In particular, Brexit will have a greater impact on particular communities that have the least power and privilege in society, i.e. those who already face barriers to inclusion, as well as disadvantage, hardship and discrimination. These groups – which we will include under the term 'equalities groups' due to the fact that they face inequality in society – will likely be disproportionately affected by Brexit, which may adversely affect their social, economic and civic rights.

This report identifies a total of 137 possible impacts of Brexit on twenty different types of equalities groups. These include impacts on legal rights, access to public services, access to funding, employment, housing and consumer spending.

The report begins with an overview of the research methods used to compile this analysis and a summary of the policy background to the report. It then offers a definition of equalities groups, before examining how Brexit has impacted these groups since the 2016 referendum. The focus then turns to the future, and the likely impacts of different types of Brexit going forward: a hard Brexit (as proposed by the UK Government in December 2019), a softer Brexit (if that Deal is amended to ensure a more comprehensive commitment to level playing-field provisions) and a no-trade deal Brexit (if the UK fails to secure a trade deal with the EU by the end of the transition period, and it is required to operate on WTO trading terms). There is a long-list of impacts on 20 equalities groups, as well as three case studies examining how Brexit may affect women, disabled people and minority ethnic communities. The report concludes with some suggestions for further research.



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