October 20, 2016 : Ruth Boyle

There’s more to Brexit than business, just ask the third sector

Until charities have a strong voice in Brexit discussions, the vulnerable will remain voiceless

The European Union and the UK are a bit like a couple that has recently broken up, but is yet to divide up the record collection.

Prolonged, turbulent discussions are to come.

In the aftermath of the EU referendum, retail sales figures and the stabilising of financial markets was used to demonstrate that economic concerns over Brexit were unfounded.

People started wondering if the vote wasn’t earth-shattering after all?

I wouldn’t be too sure.

Britain’s economy is facing prolonged weaker growth as the value of the pound slumps.

The worst is probably still to come.

During SCVO and the Charity Aid Foundation’s fringe event at the SNP conference last week, the focus was on the implications of Brexit for the third sector.

remember that employment rights, women’s rights, disability rights, environmental directives and human rights are all under threat

Alyn Smith MEP was quick to say we should remember that Brexit hasn’t actually happened yet. So perhaps it’s premature to think all is well, despite the new found positivity from the UK Government.

Also, it is easy to get wrapped up in discussions about financial markets and business investments. Much like the referendum campaign itself, this remains the focus of debate.

But we need to remember that employment rights, women’s rights, disability rights, environmental directives and human rights are all under threat. When it comes to these issues, the third sector is key, as noted by the diverse panel at the event who joined Alyn Smith:

Despite their varied backgrounds and priorities, the panel members were united in calling for the third sector to be heard in Brexit negotiations.

Organisations and attendees were concerned about the threat of recession, which looms large over the UK and the third sector. Charities will be on the front line if the financial situation worsens.

If demand for services increases while funding is restricted, the third sector will see a rise in demand a time when their sustainability is ever more precarious.

The panel agreed that we shouldn’t be complacent. In Scotland, 35% voted to leave the European Union, so we need to remember that there are disempowered individuals and communities here too.

People in Scotland are not immune to fears of increasing immigration and lost jobs. We’d be deluding ourselves to think otherwise. In rebuilding and promoting community cohesion in the face of horrifying levels of hate crime, the third sector is again crucial.

The event made it clear that the concern which existed in the immediate aftermath of the vote still lingers. And why wouldn’t it?

It’s been four months and we’re still waiting on a real plan from the UK Government.

The third sector has an important role to play in securing a future for Scotland that protects the most vulnerable. Disadvantaged groups will take the brunt of a recession and changes to employment rights. And we all stand to lose if the UK turns its back on human rights.

It’s up to the third sector to push these agendas to the centre.

Brexit looks set to be a multi-year journey, full of uncertainty. The third sector needs to be a strong voice in negotiations, part of which involves being clear in articulating our concerns.

SCVO has published a Brexit briefing, outlining the implications for Scotland and the third sector. If your organisation has other concerns to share then please get in touch.

One thing is clear: we can’t sit back and let the UK Government leave us with the Chris De Burgh records while they waltz off with the limited edition Beyonce.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Ruth Boyle