Menopause laws rejected by government as they could 'discriminate against men'

Menopause campaigners
Menopause campaigners

Menopause laws have been rejected by the government - who say it is to avoid discriminating against men.

Campaigners had called for menopause to be made a protected characteristic like race or religion, amid concern that middle-aged women are being pushed out of the workplace because employers did not support those struggling with symptoms.

Last summer, the Women and Equalities Committee called for radical changes in discrimination laws, warning that the UK was “haemorrhaging talent” because of a failure to support women in mid-life.

The cross-party group of MPs also called for the introduction of “menopause leave” for those suffering from the most debilitating symptoms, which can include insomnia, mood changes, hot flushes and anxiety.

But the Government has now rejected many of its calls, suggesting that such changes could end up discriminating against men.

MPs on Monday said the rejection made no sense, accusing ministers of making “glacial progress” in efforts to support women.

Caroline Nokes, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said: “This belated response to our report is 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.

“For too long women have faced stigma, shame and dismissive attitudes when it comes to menopause. 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.

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

The Government response, submitted to the committee this month, suggests that women who suffer “substantial and longer-term menopausal effects” should already be protected from workplace discrimination, under age, sex and discrimination laws.

And it says that making menopause a specific characteristic could “inadvertently create new forms of discrimination, for example discrimination risks towards men suffering long-term medical conditions”.

The response also suggests that any protection born from a combination of two protected characteristics - such as age and sex - could open the floodgates, meaning another 20 “dual protected” characteristics, such as race and sexual orientation, would need to be created.

In a letter to Health Minister Maria Caulfield, Ms Nokes questioned the Government’s logic, saying: “It is not clear how a protected characteristic of menopause would create discrimination against men with long-term health conditions, any more than the pregnancy discrimination provisions discriminate against men, including those with health conditions, or women who are not pregnant.

Further, menopause is an inevitable part of all women’s life course, as opposed to a form of long-term ill health.”

The letter also points out that men with long-term health conditions may be protected under the provisions for disability discrimination.

It also notes the lack of new work by Government to improve women’s health, saying it was “extremely disappointing that the Menopause Taskforce has not met since prior to the summer recess, and that the industry roundtable on HRT supplies has been delayed a number of times.”

It goes on to accuse the Government of “complacency” in an area where there is still a huge amount to be done.

It comes as a global tracker found the UK’s record on women’s health is worse than that of China and Saudi Arabia.

Poor efforts at prevention, diagnosis and treatment of health problems left the UK ranked lower than several countries with a troubling record on women’s rights.

The research which compared a wealth of data found Britain fared worse than most comparable Western countries, including the USA, Australia, New Zealand, France and Germany.

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.”