Jeff Salway: Remain misses a trick on financial security

The focus on household finances has inevitably intensified as the EU referendum debate has unfolded.

Chancellor Osborne has made shrill and increasingly ludicrous claims. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA
Chancellor Osborne has made shrill and increasingly ludicrous claims. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA

Perceptions of the impact on our financial well-being tend to be pretty decisive in these things.

But with both sides of the campaign funded primarily by business interests, financial security has been viewed through a particularly narrow prism.

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Prime Minister David Cameron’s reluctance to make the progressive case for Europe has left the Remain campaign at a disadvantage. By focusing almost exclusively on the negative economic and financial implications of a Brexit, a powerful financial security argument has been entirely overlooked.

We’ve heard all about the alleged implications of Brexit for the economy, house prices, mortgages and family holidays, in a series of shrill and increasingly ludicrous claims from George Osborne in particular.

What we haven’t heard is a positive case for remaining in the EU that appeals to concerns over individual and family financial security. But it’s there to be made, due to the EU’s role in providing employment rights such as paid annual holidays, maternity and paternity leave, equal treatment of part-time, full-time and agency employees, rights for outsourced workers and protection from discrimination.

All of these rights contribute to household financial security and are increasingly vital to our long-term economic wellbeing in today’s highly flexible economy.

We’ve had them for so long that we take them for granted, but do you ever wonder what would happen to them if we left the EU? It wouldn’t take much imagination to weave that into a positive narrative about the EU and our personal and household finances, but it’s not one you’re going to hear. The UK is already among the least fair and generous countries in Europe when it comes to providing maternity and paternity entitlements, annual leave and sick pay, according to a report by Glassdoor Economic Research.

Take the EU obligations away and those rights will only be eroded further. The current Westminster government would like to do just that, which is why they talk about job security, but not the rights that help people feel more secure in their jobs. They talk about cash in our pockets, but not about the financial support provided to part-time and agency workers that they would scrap in a heartbeat if they weren’t prevented from doing so by the pesky EU.

There’s legislation that benefits savers and investors too. MiFID 2, taking effect in January 2018, is a hugely influential piece of legislation that in driving improved protection and transparency (especially around charges) should bring real benefits to ordinary investors and pension savers. With the Treasury having rolled out the red carpet for the banking industry since last May, the EU will only become a more vital layer of protection for UK savers and investors.

Small businesses in particular may view the rights I’ve mentioned as needless, growth-inhibiting red tape. That view is getting plenty of air time. On the flipside of that coin is a more positive case that doesn’t fit the prevailing narrative.