TTIP-ing the Balance

A look at the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership deal and how it will lead to the decline of public services and regression of women’s rights.

A secret trade deal between the European Union and the United States is currently being negotiated on our behalf, without our involvement. If approved, it will negatively impact us in a multitude of ways. Part of this deal will open up our public services to unprecedented levels of privatisation, with women set to disproportionally suffer due to these changes. TTIP looks set to cause a prolonged extension of current ‘austerity’ measures as we see crucial services, such as the NHS, handed over to the private sector. As this trade deal is pretty substantial, the focus of this blog post is to look at the gendered implications it will have on our public sector.

So what is TTIP? It stands for The Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (quite possibly, the most boring thing you’ve ever heard of, which I can assume you was completely intentional). What it is depends on who you ask: to the deal makers and large corporations, it is a proposed bi-lateral trade agreement between the EU and US designed to promote trade and economic growth. Trade regulations both sides of the Atlantic will become standardised to make it easier for companies to conduct business.

This all sounds lovely, but scratch the surface and it gets pretty ugly, pretty quickly. In reality, this agreement is being negotiated by corporations, for corporations. It plans to remove regulations that preserve peoples’ rights as well as laws protecting our food, the environment, employment, public services and sovereign powers. For example, By drastically reducing these regulations to the lowest common denominator, corporations will be making even more profit, at our expense.

Women use and rely on public services the most. Many of the public services such as child-care and healthcare, were designed to both support and increase women’s participation in the job market and society in general. These decisions have helped create a fairer and more equal society that benefits everyone. Government cuts to the public sector in the name of so called ‘austerity’ have already had a disastrous impact on women. Now these vital services look set to be further dismantled and eroded by TTIP in numerous ways.

As women predominate jobs in the public sector, they are at greater risk of job losses: TTIP will bring greater competition with international workers and subsequently squeeze opportunities available for women. Women — particularly women of colour — occupy many of the low paid and insecure jobs most at risk. TTIP will encourage the removal of safe guards of workers’ rights, affecting minimum wage legislation, unions and working conditions; all of which will be under threat and likely to decline thanks to its radical neo-liberal policies. TTIP will ultimately undermine the core values of the welfare state, founded on nationalisation and the principles of collective, social and public responsibility.

The public service at the heart of our welfare system is the National Health Service. The NHS is the largest provider of jobs in the UK and over 75% of its staff are women. Services like the NHS have traditionally provided decent employment opportunities for women by offering skilled and relatively well paid flexible jobs. As staff become privatised, these opportunities are diminished. Privatised workers in the NHS in England and Wales are already feeling the strain of an increased workload, lower wages and job insecurity. The NHS is turning into a market — something to make money from — led by payment-by-results contracts and private insurance providers. Stories such as that of Martin Shkreli increasing the price of an HIV medication last year could become common place. TTIP would also bring longer patents on medicines and further monopolise the market. Universal health care could be something of the past with services up for grabs to the highest corporate bidder: a structure resembling that of the US where insurance and fees are needed to pay of healthcare.

Single mothers’ balancing work and caring for their families have already been hit the hardest by government cuts. Their plight looks set to continue, with more unpaid work falling back onto women, as the services that once provided this support disappear. This will be added to the list of barriers women already face such as extortionate child-care costs which prevent them from re-entering the workforce. Women are already the unsung heroes of the economy, doing the vast bulk of unpaid work, without which, our economy would not thrive. With this set to increase, the knock on effect will see a regression of women’s rights with less time and fewer opportunities for them to enter the job market and participate in society. Sounds like a massive step backwards.

Supporters of this trade agreement will harp on about ‘greater efficiency, more jobs, higher wages’, the same old rehearsed sounds bites dished out to entice us. But it couldn’t be further from the truth, especially of women. Austerity and TTIP are an assault on the public sector, which in effect, is an assault on women. TTIP will undermine progressive policies that have been fought for in order to advance women’s rights and their participation in the job market and society. Let’s be honest, deregulation has never done us any favours (2008 financial crash anyone?). It would be the obliteration of the public sector, set out to capitalise on a system that already disproportionally affects women, especially those already on the fringes of society. As such, it is very much a feminist issue. Due to the secrecy of it, no one knows the exact details, but for a trade agreement that is set to have such a huge impact on out lives, we should really be part of the discussion.

So, what can we do about TTIP? Talk about it, talk about it with friends, family, anyone. I’ve always found the best approach is to make it tangible: tell someone how it would affect them personally in their day to day lives. Maybe mention a fun fact such as: did you know, the number of chemicals banned in the EU cosmetic industry is 1,328. The number of chemical banned in the US cosmetic industry is 11. Can’t wait for those previously banned chemicals to flood the market. Do anything to make people aware of what is at stake.