Vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the UK are already suffering as a result of Brexit, a leading academic told a conference in Glasgow
There is no hope of a soft Brexit for vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the UK, a leading academic has warned.
Professor Kenneth Armstrong of the University of Cambridge said the impacts of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) are already being felt in the country’s poorest communities.
These include rising prices – especially for food – and wages that are falling behind inflation, leaving many people worse off than they were before the referendum.
Post-Brexit, Armstrong cautioned, there will be a “real risk” of increased inequality, division and xenophobia as the UK “cut its tether” with EU legislation.
There are real risks to human dignity, to equality and discrimination, especially on grounds of nationality, to social protection and to food and fuel security
Speaking at a Poverty Alliance conference on poverty human rights in Glasgow, the academic – a professor of EU law – called for an independent audit to ensure the rights of disadvantaged people were safeguarded after Brexit.
He said: “Brexit isn’t just about cutting ourselves off from the single market. It means the UK will no longer be bound by the EU’s Human Rights Charter and legislation.
“There are real risks to human dignity, to equality and discrimination, especially on grounds of nationality, to social protection and to food and fuel security.
“It won’t be a soft Brexit for those who are dependent.”
Leave campaigners, he noted, had “left the stage” since the vote to leave in June.
“An audit would hold them to account,” he said. “We were repeatedly told by the leave campaign that we’d be better off.
“But no-one from the campaign can be held to account on this. An audit must find who is gaining from Brexit – and who is losing.”
Armstrong went on to say that although the UK was leaving the EU’s legal framework on human rights, it was important that organisations and governments continued to work across borders to tackle poverty and exclusion.
The conference also heard from Dr Ima Jackson, from the Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network, who said she had noticed increased feelings of hostility towards migrants since the EU referendum.
Branding UK Government anti-immigrant rhetoric as “dangerous and careless”, Jackson said many projects supporting refugees were struggling to find support and funding after the leave vote.
“Initiatives that support migrants have learned not to speak too loudly,” she said. “They’ve learned that if they do, then things get precarious.
“Migrants are ultimately competing for resources – after Brexit, that’s going to be even more difficult.”
Dr Andrew Fraser, NHS Scotland’s director of public health, told the conference human rights needed to be at the heart of the battle against poverty.
He welcomed the Scottish Government’s Fairer Scotland campaign, but cautioned that it must be weighed against the “swirling tide” of the risks of Brexit.
“We need to take this opportunity to seize the moment,” he said. “Nicola Sturgeon has indicated her commitment to including human rights in legislation.
“NHS Scotland’s approach is also increasingly driven by human rights. Tackling inequality will become a core part of what we do.
“It’s a hard road to tread for our political leadership. But it’s the right way to go. It will set up our country to be better and fairer.
“We’re on the right road, and doing better for that.”
Latoya Francis: poverty already limits my human rights
Latoya Francis has lived in Scotland for 10 years after moving here alone from London when she was 15 years old.
Formerly a nursing student, Latoya had to quit her dream job after an illness led to her losing her sight.
Since then, she has struggled to find a home suitable for her needs and has been treated with indifference by the NHS and care workers.
She argues that her experiences have shown that, while human rights laws are fine in theory, they often don’t work in practice.
“Human rights mean the freedom to live in accessible and safe housing. But I waited six months for accommodation in a safe area,” she
“They mean being treated fairly, having the freedom to speak up and be listened to. But doctors grab me on the arm without warning, they leave the room without telling me.
“I told one of them, ‘imagine I was your child’. He replied, ‘but you’re not'.”
Latoya said the hardships she has endured have often left her feeling suicidal.
She said: “There are lots of human rights acts, but they’re all written by people ‘up there’. Never by those in poverty.
“Human rights should not just be paper. They should be there for people in hard situations.”
Latoya's husband lives in Nigeria but is unable to move to Scotland as under UK legislation a resident must earn £18,000 before they can apply to have their family join them. They were married before Latoya started to lose her sight and at that time she believed she would be earning enough money for him to come to live here.
Not having her husband with her means she lives alone with no family support which is challenging and is, in essence, denying her the right to a family life
“We all deserve rights,” she said. “No-one should be excluded from society in any way whatsoever”.