UK citizens have gained much from a huge range of consumer and social protection measures introduced through, or influenced by, EU legislation and regulations. Consumer protection measures can be found across a wide range of markets including financial services, food, health and medicines, utilities, electronic goods, transport and tourism, and so on. The measures were introduced to make products and markets safer, give us access to a wider choice of better value products and services, and enforceable rights and redress if things go wrong. But, it’s more than that. These measures have given us a better quality of life. However, there is a very real risk that UK citizens could lose valuable protection as a result of the EU referendum – regardless of whether the UK votes to remain or leave.
Of course, we would still have consumer protection if the UK leaves the EU. But, experience tells us that the degree of protection available to UK consumers is higher in key areas because of UK membership. Put bluntly, the EU has had a ‘civilizing’ effect on the UK. Other major EU member states attach more importance to social justice, the rights of citizens and the belief that markets should serve society – in contrast to the dominant ideology in the UK which puts the market first. Therefore, if the UK votes to leave, we think there is a very high risk that consumer rights and power would be weakened.
But, why might consumers lose regardless of which way the vote goes? One of the key planks of the UK Government’s negotiations relates to ‘competitiveness’. That is, the UK Government says it is trying to get the other EU governments and EU institutions to agree to a programme of deregulation to aid competitiveness and the development of the single market.
We note with growing concern the regular scaremongering about regulatory ‘burdens’ and ‘red tape’ stifling innovation and competitiveness. In our experience, this is code for deregulation and reduction of important consumer protection and other social protection measures. This, of course, would benefit big business and the UK financial sector in the short term. But, it is a misguided approach and could increase the risk of consumers being ripped off and being exposed to risky products and services. Ultimately, this would harm consumer confidence and trust in the single market and actually hurt the long term interests of industry. Regulation levels the playing field for consumers, promotes consumer confidence and creates the conditions for true innovation and effective competition.
There are examples of duplication and inconsistency in EU legislation and regulation which could be streamlined. But, claims that regulation stifles innovation and competition is just scaremongering and is just plain wrong. This is all part of a campaign by industry lobbies to reduce corporate costs and liability and transfer risk and responsibility to consumers and wider society.
The media has been distracted by the sensitive issue of welfare benefits (which in all likelihood will have very small monetary impact on UK households) and the political drama of the referendum itself. But the issue that could have a very real effect on our citizens’ rights and quality of lives has not been subject to any meaningful scrutiny. Real progress has been made in many of the major consumer markets as a result of EU legislation and regulations. But there is still much to be done particularly in areas such as financial services. Now is not the time to reverse the progress made. We need to have a proper, transparent debate about this rather than sleepwalking into losing valuable consumer protection and rights.
More detail can be found in the Blog. See: http://inclusioncentre.co.uk/wordpress29/blog/what-has-the-eu-ever-done-for-us-the-eu-referendum-and-uk-consumers
 There is also a huge body of employment rights at jeopardy. These are not within our remit but it should be pointed out that if these are weakened, financial and social exclusion could be exacerbated.