Mhairi Snowden says it is important that the voluntary sector prepares as much as it can for the impacts of Brexit
As I write, two weeks today will be the end of a very rubbish year.
Also - two weeks today is the end of the Brexit transition period.
Now I know that the very mention of the word ‘Brexit’ is enough to turn many folks off. However, it is also incredibly important that the voluntary sector in Scotland is prepared, is alive to the potential impacts, and continues to work together to influence as much as humanly possible around Brexit.
Why? Because we will soon begin to see these impacts in everyday lives and there’s quite a lot at stake.
Although PM Boris Johnson made ‘Brexit happen’ back in January this year, due to this period of transition, very little has changed so far. We have still been working within EU law and have been part of all of its trade deals and conditions. Particularly given that the voluntary sector has been at the frontline of emergency community response to the pandemic, the impacts of Brexit in comparison have seemed unclear, uncertain and far-off. (Indeed, possibly because for many of us for too many years, the EU seemed this way too, this has not helped?)
The UK Government and the EU are still in last-ditch attempts to salvage a deal. They might yet pull something off. If they do, the deal may be thin. As organisations working with some of our most disadvantaged communities, it will be important to look in coming weeks for detail in any deal around what rights and standards they have agreed to as a minimum, including workers’ and environmental rights. It will be important to see if they have agreed to stay within the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It is important to see if there is any detail on broader EU-UK agreements that are hugely important to those we work with and for, for example, is there agreement on European Protection Orders that provide vital protection for women who have experienced domestic violence and who cross borders? Agreement on the Blue Badge scheme for disabled drivers? Agreement on Erasmus + and similar schemes?
If there is no deal, then please cast your mind back to Autumn 2019 and what the main concerns of ‘no deal’ were – most of them, excepting for those directly related to EU Settlement Scheme, still apply. Short to medium term impact on food prices, food shortages, and medicine and medical supply shortages all loom large and are expected by experts in these fields. There will be significantly increased staff shortages in critical sectors such as health and social care.
And regardless of thin deal or no deal, economic experts agree that there will be a negative impact upon the UK economy. Whilst we are reeling from the impacts of Covid and the redundancies and unemployment that have come in its wake, the impact of being outside of the EU will deepen these impacts. For some, this short-term impact will bring long-term gain with increased UK sovereignty; for others, these impacts herald the start of a long spell of Brexit-induced economic downturn.
The voluntary sector is a chief mitigator of the impacts of poverty. In countless communities across Scotland, it is voluntary organisations of all different shapes and sizes that provide the critical emergency or emotional or practical support that people need when their lives are ground down by the impacts of living with too little. And so, the voluntary sector needs to get ready – whether the impacts are short or longer term, we know that an immediate consequence of Brexit will be that demand for your support will increase in 2021.
And to highlight in particular that, amongst those needing your support, will be those who were born in the EU but whose home is here. There is a considerable need for all of us to use our networks, contacts and communities to reach out to all EU citizens living in Scotland. We want them to stay, we want them to have secure immigration status, we want them to be shielded against the worst that the hostile immigration environment can bring. So, this might not be your core line of work or support, but are there ways in which you can help to protect our EU citizens by supporting them to apply for settled status before end of June 2021?
2020 has been truly awful, but it has also been a year in which we’ve seen amazing community support come alive, with many in the voluntary sector driving this response. In 2021 as we meet the impacts of Brexit head-on, we will need that same determined, creative, people-empowering, dignity-enhancing response.
Mhairi Snowden is director at Human Rights Consortium Scotland