At 11pm tonight the UK will officially leave the European Union. 1,317 days after one of the most significant exercises in direct democracy in our history, the ‘Exit’ part of Brexit will be done. From tonight we will enter a transition period with the EU until the end of the year, with negotiations on trade deals and future cooperation likely to keep going for many years, if not decades. Nevertheless, today is momentous. So what next?
Here are five policy changes and shifts charities will want to think about as we gradually move into the post-Brexit era.
1. Space for other social policy issues
Brexit has dominated the policy agenda for the past three and a half years, with other pressing social issues squeezed out. Whether it’s rising homelessness, underfunded prisons, or declining youth services, no issue could wrestle any serious attention away from Brexit.
But this new government appears to want to move the policy agenda on, and the Conservative manifesto included a raft of social policies, from social prescribing, to reforms to our criminal justice system, and commitments to end rough sleeping. This could be good news for campaigning charities, with a chance for progress and change on many of the social issues they were set up to improve.
That said, the government has a long list of commitments to fulfil, and the room for new policy agendas outside of these is likely to be narrow. Charities will need to think innovatively about how their priorities fit within the government’s vision if they are to have an impact.
2. New and reconfigured funding streams
Existing EU funding like the European Social Fund that have been used to promote employment and social cohesion programmes that charities have often delivered, are going to be replaced with other funding like the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. And the government has also announced new funding such as the £100 billion for new infrastructure. It is unclear how these will be structured and what they will be spent on, but at least some is likely to be focussed on pressing social challenges.
Charities that have received EU funding, or worked on EU-funded projects, will need to understand what these new funds will be spent on and how they can access them. And campaigning charities will no doubt want to help shape them.
3. Changing EU citizens’ status
Some charities will be working with EU citizens or have staff or volunteers from the EU, so charities may need to support those people to apply for settled status by 31st December 2020. We know from our work managing the Transition Advice Fund (TAF), which funds charities working to ensure EU nationals living in Britain can access their legal right to settled status, that women and the elderly are particularly at risk of not accessing their legal right to stay. They, and other vulnerable groups, may need specialist support from charities to navigate the registration process.
4. An increasing politics of place
The Prime Minister has committed to levelling up and uniting the country, saying he will deliver on his promises to those parts of the country that voted Conservative for the first time in decades. Many of these areas are in some of the most deprived parts of the country. So we can expect to see more focus on how funding and policies affect different parts of the country, particularly the so called ‘left-behind’ areas.
For the many charities that have been based, or focussing their activities, in particular places this new focus may mean more government funding and policies which help to tackle the social challenges in those areas. And for larger charities with a national remit, it may prove an opportunity to consider how their services can work better for different areas across the country.
Out recent analysis Where are England’s Charities? showed that there are fewer local charities per head of population in more deprived parts of the country than in more affluent areas. So there is an opportunity for charities and government policy to help redress this.
But this is by no means guaranteed. The government’s focus for levelling up the country has so far been on hard infrastructure like rail links and regeneration projects. These are certainly important for economic growth and access to jobs, but they miss the vital social infrastructure, like the community centres and local support services for the vulnerable, that bind our communities together and make them better places to live. So charities will need to help make the case to government if this social infrastructure is to get the focus and support it needs.
5. New implications from trade negotiations
The UK will be busy for many years negotiating new trade deals, with US and EU deals likely to be a priority. These will affect not only our regulations on the flow of goods and services between countries, but also on the quality and standards of products, and potentially on labour regulations. In other words, it could reach into many areas that charities work on—from consumer and worker rights, through to environmental protections.
At this stage we can’t predict the outcome of these negotiations. But charities will need to keep an eye on the detail and how any regulatory changes could impact the issues they care about.
NPC is helping charities with lots of the issues mentioned here. From our events to our Pledge on Place, charities can find out more and get involved in the solutions.