Will Women Really Have to Give Up Work After Brexit To Look After Ageing Relatives?

By Jenn Selby, Freelance News Editor 8 Aug 2018

Another week, another deluge of terrifying ‘No Deal’ Brexit headlines that strike fear into the hearts of just about everyone.

Could the supermarkets really run out of food? Will the people of Northern Ireland be able to see in the dark if all their electricity gets turned off? Are women going to have to leave their jobs to care for sick and elderly relatives?

The latter is the latest to test the nerves of Britons, many of whom are infuriated by the assertion.

“Do men not have parents, too?” Twitter replied. And it had a very good point.

The claim was originally carried by the Telegraph in an article that suggested a regression in gender equality practice was likely “unless EU workers are given priority after Brexit”.

This was a response to a 37-page dossier released by the Department of Health, which warned that failure to meet the needs of social care in Britain will likely lead to a “decrease in labour market participation levels, especially among women, as greater numbers undertake informal care”.

Women Are Statistically Far More Likely To Cut Hours To Care For Others

Female nurse attends to male patientPhoto by RaxPixel/Unsplash

It’s easy to view the Department of Health’s prediction as gender discriminatory. But there are some statistics that suggest the idea could become a reality if the health service is impacted by a shortfall in carers from EU countries.

It is estimated that 40 percent of the 6.5million people currently caring for others in the UK are doing so informally and without pay. Most of these carers are women, because of other culturally discriminatory practices.

For example, women shoulder the responsibility for childcare, and also have to contend with a gender pay gap. It could be argued it would be more economically viable for women to cut their hours down at work than men, even if it is down to deeply discriminatory social norms that are characteristic of a patriarchal society.

This would mean that women can find themselves financially dependent on others, whether a partner, her family or the State.

How Does UK Law Protect Women From Being Discriminated Against?

bonnie-kittle-122261-unsplashCredit: Bonnie Kitty for Unsplash

Legally, though, the government – nor anyone else – can force women to leave their jobs to undertake unpaid care work.

Under the Equality Act, it is against the law to discriminate against anyone based on gender, race, religion or disability. This not only prevents employers from making redundancies or refusing to hire someone based on protected characteristics, but it also stops them from paying an individual less for no good reason.

Sex discrimination can be direct or indirect, which means that businesses, services, and organisations have to consider the needs and safety of women when writing policy.

Neither does it have to be deliberate. An organisation could unknowingly be discriminating against someone because of their gender. This would also be illegal.

In 2015, controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship or within a family became a crime. This means victims of domestic violence and emotional abuse who have experienced sustained patterns of abuse would be better protected.

It would also make it illegal for a partner or a family member to force a female relative to stop work and start caring full time.

Thanks to human rights legislation, there are a number of protective laws in place to prevent this kind of discrimination from manifesting.

Even so, living in a patriarchal society that doesn’t place a high monetary value on care work – or value women as equal to men –  could make this issue a problem. If anyone is to bear this burden of a “no-deal” Brexit, cultural attitudes make it infinitely more likely to be women.