80.There are long-held and inter-connected networks of research on equality initiatives between the UK and European partners which have contributed to a shared knowledge base on equalities and comparative data that is invaluable for policy-making. An example is the EU-wide survey conducted by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency on violence against women based on interviews with 42,000 women across the EU.
81.Some European research networks are available to all countries in Europe, whether EU members or not, while membership of others will depend on the UK’s relationship with the EU after exiting. Professor Walby told us that:
many of the research institutions in which the EU is a major player are open to countries outside the EU, so it is perfectly possible, if the UK pays the relevant fees, to be part of them. The research field does not have rigid boundaries in the same way as we see in relation to the single market. If you were to say that Britain wanted to be part of the European Research Council and the Horizon 2020 programmes, and contributing to the Women Against Violence Europe network, it would be possible.
82.Professor Walby reported that equalities had not, to date, been a part of developing research programmes related to the UK exiting the EU:
At the moment, the equalities agenda has not taken priority, and given these are very important issues, as we move through Brexit, the explicit naming of them as priority agendas within the research entities we have that engage in funding would be an important contribution to ensuring that Brexit proceeds in the best possible manner.
83.If, after exiting the EU, the UK does not continue to participate in some of the current data collection processes, other such processes, both domestic and international, may become more important for the UK’s evidence base on equalities including comparative data in order to develop equalities policies. Professor Walby suggested that these could include requirements to collect data to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (led by the Office for National Statistics in the UK), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) measurement of equality indicators and recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) work on gender budgeting.
84.The Committee received evidence about funding for research and other equality initiatives in the UK from EU institutions. Sussex University told us:
There are likely to be indirect and long term impacts on equality protection in the UK if the research community loses access to EU funding sources, as seems likely. Particularly given that the UK is one of the largest recipients of research funding in the EU. This will have an impact on the evidence base for equality and law in the future.
85.It is not only in relation to funding for research where gaps may appear in future, but equality projects such as advocacy, service delivery and legal advice. Witnesses noted the particular importance of the EU Structural Funds to equalities initiatives; some of this funding goes directly to equality projects and some is channelled through state bodies. Concerns have been raised about potential gaps in funding for equalities initiatives once the UK has left the EU. Ali Harris of the Equality and Diversity Forum, a membership organisation of UK equality and humans organisations, told us that:
As we go forward, one of the concerns that members have is that the funding—some of which, such as the ESF, goes to the voluntary sector, which is one issue, but a lot of which goes instead to local authorities or the local enterprise partnerships—enables the empowerment of the beneficiaries of charities of the voluntary sector, wherever it goes. If that is not happening or if it is not replaced in one way or another, what will be the impact on the voluntary sector in terms of the rise in demand? It needs to be quantified somehow, and that has to be a dialogue between the voluntary sector and policy makers.
86.The Equality and Diversity Forum stated that there was a need to assess the extent of research and other equality initiatives that currently receive EU funds to ensure that progress continues:
There are other EU initiatives that support embedding equality law in practice and/or help shape inclusive equality policy-making in the UK. These include funding such as the millions of pounds in investment from the European Structural Fund to support progress in the four nations on issues such as gender and age equality. It includes grants providing hundreds of thousands of pounds of investment through a range of streams such as the EC Daphne III programme, Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme, PROGRESS programme, and Partnership programme for civil society organisations. It also includes policy mechanisms such as the Roma Integration Strategy. It will be important to ensure that the extent of these initiatives are fully scoped and that effective mechanisms and resourcing are put in place both to continue progress in these areas, and to enable on-going collaboration and exchange of good practice with colleagues in the EU.
87.The Minister for Women and Equalities, Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, told us that the UK has a strong research base and that:
I am looking to see what we can do to strengthen it further. I would like to see the UK really be a trailblazer in having a strong evidence base around what works, in tackling discrimination, particularly around gender.
88.The Government’s White Paper sets out its commitments to funding EU funded projects. It states that all European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIFs) projects signed, or with funding agreements that were in place before the Autumn Statement 2016, will be “fully funded, even when these projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU.” It goes on to say that for projects signed after the Autumn Statement 2016 and which continue after the UK has left the EU:
HM Treasury will honour funding for projects if they provide strong value for money and are in line with domestic strategic priorities.
89.In relation to bids made directly to the Commission by UK organisations (including Horizon 2020) the Government says that institutions, universities and businesses should continue to bid for funding and that:
We will work with the Commission to ensure payment when funds are awarded. HM Treasury will underwrite the payment of such awards, even when specific projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU.
90.The Government has also stated that it will consult with stakeholders to review all EU funding schemes to ensure any ongoing funding commitments best serve the UK’s national interests.
91.In our letter to the Minister for Women and Equalities, sent before the White Paper was published, we asked what plans the Government has to map civil society and research work in the equalities sphere which currently makes use of EU networks and funding, and what analysis is planned to establish where there might be a risk of gaps emerging or expertise being lost. In her response, the Minister said:
The Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014–2020) is the EU’s key funding mechanism for equality and non-discrimination work, including research and civil society activity. The Ministry of Justice is the UK Government’s lead on this programme. The GEO will be working closely with them, and other Departments as necessary, to understand the activities supported by this programme and the impact of changes following EU exit.
93.As the UK leaves the EU, the UK Government should actively seek to maintain and embed participation in international networks for equalities research. Networks based around the United Nations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Labour Organisation are likely to become increasingly important.
94.In addition, leaving the EU does not mean that the UK cannot continue to play a part in European networks. This may mean opting into these networks on a pro-rata basis, which may require funding that was previously provided as part of EU membership. The Government should seek to set aside funding for ensuring that UK research and civil society organisations can maintain international links that are vital for ensuring strong equality protection.
95.The Government should assess the extent of research and other equality initiatives that currently receive EU funds. It should then work with research and civil society organisations to identify and develop alternative sources of funding from either state or non-state sources. These funds should be ring-fenced for the same purposes as they were originally allocated for by the EU to allow the current equalities research to continue undisrupted.
63 School of Law, Politics and Sociology, University of Sussex () para 27
65 Equality and Diversity Forum ( ) para 21
66 Oral evidence taken on 18 January 2017, , Q16
67 UK Government, The United Kingdom’s Exit from and New Partnership with the European Union (February 2017) p 12
68 UK Government, The United Kingdom’s Exit from and New Partnership with the European Union (February 2017) p 12
69 UK Government, The United Kingdom’s Exit from and New Partnership with the European Union (February 2017) p 12
70 Letter from Minister for Women and Equalities on the work of the Government Equalities Office,
24 February 2017