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Inquiry into UK gender laws to be launched

3rd Feb 2017

An inquiry into the UK’s gender discrimination laws is to be launched amid fears that a potential post-Brexit move towards a lower regulation economy could see a reduction in protections.

The nine-month inquiry by the Fawcett Society will be led by Dame Laura Cox, a retired high court judge, who will be assisted by lawyers, academics, and others.

Areas of equality law to be examined include measures to guarantee equal pay, protection for part-time workers and during pregnancy, and combating intersectional discrimination.

Although the government promised to protect equality and the rights of workers following departure from the EU, Smethers said, there are concerns that some protections could be lost almost inadvertently amid wider changes.

Both Theresa May and chancellor Philip Hammond have warned the EU that if Britain does not secure a sufficiently good deal on departure, the UK could strike out alone with a low-tax economy designed to attract investment.

“The real worry we’ve got is that those kind of assurances are actually quite superficial, and they are probably a second order commitment compared to the need to secure a competitive economy, and how we compete if we’re outside the trading bloc,” Smethers said. “This fear of a race to the bottom and becoming this low-regulation, low-tax economy is, I think, a very real one.”

The so-called great repeal bill, which will incorporate EU rules in UK law, had the potential for some protections to be eliminated at a later date, Smethers noted.

The Fawcett Society is behind one of the dozens of amendments to the government bill to trigger article 50, seeking to prevent protections being repealed.

However, Smethers said the point of the review was not just to cling on to what already existed but to prompt a more fundamental rethink, for example on companies abiding by regulations.

“It’s not just about trying to protect the minimum,” she said. “It’s about trying to create a forward-looking idea of what sort of country we want to be, and where we want to get to.”

Dame Laura Cox stated that “Some of the basic rights that we now take for granted – pregnancy and maternity rights, part-time workers’ rights, equal pay for work of equal value – are all at risk if the UK becomes a low-regulation economy.”