Government rejects calls from MPs for menopause leave trial

Dominic McGrath, PA

Tue, 24 January 2023 at 6:56 am GMT

The Government has rejected calls for a large-scale pilot of menopause leave, in a move described as a “missed opportunity” by a Commons committee.

Ministers have also resisted a recommendation from the Commons Women and Equalities Committee to make menopause a “protected characteristic” under the Equalities Act.

The recommendations formed a key plank of a report by the cross-party committee in July last year focusing on menopause and the workplace, but in a response published on Tuesday the Government rejected the two suggestions.

Committee chairwoman Caroline Nokes questioned the Government’s commitment to the issue of menopause.

In a letter to health minister Maria Caulfield, the Conservative MP said she was disappointed that “very little new work has been committed to by the Government” in response to the committee’s report, as she expressed concern that the Government had ignored what she termed the “significant evidence base” for menopause being seen as a “protected characteristic”.

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Committee chairwoman and Conservative MP Caroline Nokes (Victoria Jones/PA)

But the Government, in rejecting the recommendation, suggested that such an approach might not be the best solution to support women.

It also warns of unintentionally creating “discrimination risks towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions, or eroding existing protections”.

The Government also said that the proposal for a pilot scheme on menopause leave was not seen as “necessary” and could turn out to be “counterproductive”.

“We are focusing our efforts on disseminating best practice and encouraging employers to implement workplace menopause policies and other forms of support such as flexible working, which can play a vital role in supporting people to remain in work,” the Government said.

Elsewhere, the Government said it was “committed to reducing the cost of HRT prescriptions” in response to the committee report.

Ms Nokes, who in her letter to Ms Caulfield noted that the reply to the report was three and a half months late, said that it was a “missed opportunity to protect vast numbers of talented and experienced women from leaving the workforce, and leaves me unconvinced that menopause is a Government priority”.

“The evidence to our inquiry was crystal clear that urgent action was needed across healthcare and work settings to properly address women’s needs, yet government progress has been glacial and its response complacent,” she said in a statement.

“Its refusal to even consult on reforming equalities law doesn’t make sense and we urge it to look again.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We recognise that the menopause can be a challenging time for women, which is why we have put women’s health at the top of the agenda as part of the first-ever women’s health strategy for England.

“We are implementing an ambitious programme of work with the NHS to improve menopause care so all women can access the support they need.

“We encourage employers to be compassionate and flexible to the needs of their employees, and are committed to supporting more flexible working patterns – having consulted on making flexible working the default unless employers have good reasons not to.”

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