We are repeatedly being told that “Brexit means Brexit” – but what does that actually mean? At the moment we are still a long way from really understanding the impact of Brexit on our daily lives. The Minister in charge of Brexit, David Davis, told Parliament last week that he didn’t yet know what sort of arrangements the UK would end up with in terms of trade, free movement of people or indeed any of the other hundreds of areas of policy which will be affected by Britain leaving the European Union.
This is hardly surprising since the Department for Exiting the EU is still in the midst of recruiting the civil servants and external specialists with the skills and knowledge it needs to develop policy after June’s momentous referendum decision.
Age UK is aware of questions being asked by older people both in the UK, and those UK citizens living in mainland Europe, about what Brexit might mean for them in terms of income, access to health care and the fundamental question of their right to residency once the UK leaves the EU.
The answers to almost all of these questions are still unclear but as a starting point Age UK has written a short briefing which attempts to separate out the ‘knowns,’ the ‘unknowns’ and the ‘unknown unknowns’ about Brexit.
People have contacted us to ask about a range of issues that might be impacted by Brexit including access to reciprocal healthcare in European countries, state pensions and age discrimination. Our briefing covers all of these issues.
Our starting point at Age UK is that older people’s position must be strengthened and not weakened by any changes following Brexit. And our current advice is to keep calm and carry on; We won’t start to see the detail of any changes to entitlements and practical arrangements until the Government formally triggers Article 50 – the legal mechanism for the withdrawal of a member state from the EU – a process which itself is expected to take two years. And even then the Government may need to introduce or repeal legislation in many cases before we see any actual change in policy.
There are a number of employment issues stemming from EU directives which Age UK believe should be retained and bolstered such as employment protections that are particularly relevant to older workers. These include provisions around part-time working, caring responsibilities and compensation for age discrimination.
There are also serious questions to be answered around the workforce shortages in the health and care sectors which are currently being partly plugged by EU migrants. Restrictions on the rights of these individuals to work in the UK would have a seriously detrimental impact on the delivery of health and social care services to some of the most vulnerable older people in the UK.
One thing is certain, Brexit will be keeping us busy…once we really know what it means.