Anna Firth is a councillor and barrister who fought Erith and Thamesmead at the 2015 General Election. She is co-chair of Women for Britain.
Women are the most important group of swing voters in the EU referendum campaign. A fifth of all female voters, according to a recent ICM poll, are still undecided. Crucially, when we look at turnout, women are just as likely as men to turn out and vote. There is therefore a large pool of potential votes still up for grabs if only the Leave campaign could connect with them.
According to BritainThinks, women tend to view big political issues through the prism of their own lives and what it means for their family, the services they rely on and, most importantly, their children’s future. Words such as “Brexit” and the “Single Market” turn many women off, as do constant scare-stories about the economy. Another barrier for women is the paucity of female voices. To many women the whole EU debate is descending into a personality contest between Conservative men in suits. Unless those advocating on either side are able to illustrate their arguments by reference to things that women come across in their daily lives such as the need to access hospitals, school places, housing, jobs; women (and indeed many men) will simply “switch off”.
Arguments showing very clearly how much better off the average family will be post-Brexit due to cheaper food, cheaper utilities and higher wages play out well, as do arguments illustrating very clearly how much more money there will be for the NHS, schools and housing. Reasoned arguments regarding immigration and its likely adverse effects not just on future public services but on job opportunities and the availability of housing for their children are also effective.
The ability to kick out Governments that don’t listen, the millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money wasted by Brussels and the appalling handling of the refugee crisis concern women whereas the EU’s diabolical record concerning animal welfare disgusts most women.
Women, although risk averse where their families’ futures are concerned, are suspicious of huge, unaccountable bureaucracies so are naturally Eurosceptic, but they need something positive to vote for. Here are five positive reasons why women should vote to leave the EU:
Out of the EU, food, energy and petrol will all fall and wages will go up. We would also be able to welcome back cheaper car insurance for women and stop the ECJ-imposed practice of women having to subsidise reckless male drivers. An average family of four is likely to save £45 a month, £550 per year on food alone.
More jobs long-term
The EU is in long-term, structural decline. According to the IMF, the EU has been the worst performing economic block in the world over virtually any period you choose in the last 20 years with the single exception of Japan. The long-term health of UK economy demands that we leave EU. A whole generation of young people have been written off across Southern Europe due to the EU’s incompetent economic policies. We do not want our children to face a similar prospect by staying in the EU and becoming more integrated with, and regulated by, a group of countries with declining economies. If we broke away from the single market, we would be able to trade freely with the rest of the world whilst continuing to trade with Europe through EFTA. Businesses would flourish producing more jobs, more investment and more wealth. A healthy economy brings better prospects for everyone.
The UK sends more than £350 million every week to the EU, over £19 billion a year, money that could be spent on new schools and classroom facilities. The EU’s rules on free movement are placing unprecedented pressure on our schools and maternity units. Last year 84,000 pupils missed out on their first choice of secondary school and by 2024, only eight years away, 900,000 more school places will be needed. In addition, last year nearly half of all maternity units were forced to close their doors five times on average, and for up to three days, due to demand. If we came out of the EU we could start building the new schools we need to educate the next generation. We could also invest more in our NHS, which is nearing crisis point.
More available housing
We have a huge shortage of housing, partly as a result of uncontrolled migration which has made the UK one of the most populated countries in the world per square mile. This means having to make difficult decisions as to whether to build on the greenbelt or increase density. Young people would be able to get onto the housing ladder more easily if the UK leaves the EU and controls migration better.
Contrary to what we are led to believe by the Remain campaign, Britain has led the way when it comes to women’s rights and protections. For example, if you have a baby in the UK you are entitled to 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay compared to only 14 weeks in other EU member states. The first Equal Pay Act was pioneered by our first female Minister of State, Barbara Castle. We passed the Abortion Act, the Divorce Reform Act and made the contraceptive pill free on the NHS all long before we joined the EU. We then went on to pass the Sex Discrimination Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the Employment Protection Act. The UK is years ahead of the EU when it comes to protecting women’s rights. Voting to stay in the EU risks our stronger maternity rights being watered down as the EU seeks to harmonise worker’s rights across the whole EU block.
Ultimately, being in control of our own democracy means transparent direct accountability.