The Women and Equalities Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Government Equalities Office. In their initial report published in July 2022, they stated that there is considerable stigma around menopause, particularly for certain groups such as young women, those from different ethnic minority backgrounds and for LGBTQ+ people.
To tackle this, they want to see a major public health campaign and targeted communications to GPs on changes to HRT prescriptions. They want to see the Government producing model menopause policies, and trial specific menopause leave in the workplace so that women are 'not forced out of work by insensitive and rigid sickness policies.'
One of their larger recommendations is around the Equality Act 2010 and to consult on making menopause a protected characteristic. The Committee’s report, argued that the overlooked impact of menopause is causing the UK economy to 'haemorrhage talent'
The Government's response to the report covers each of the Committee's recommendations, however they have stated that the document should not be read in isolation as there is much work already underway across government to improve care and support for women going through menopause.
The Government accepted in principal the Committee's recommendation for a menopause public health campaign from school age and across the workforce, and recognises the potential value in this. They referred back to their plans either underway or in creation via the Women's Health Strategy for educating and raising awareness of menopause in individuals, healthcare professionals and employers.
They also accepted in principal that the Government should appoint a Menopause Ambassador to work with stakeholders from business, unions and advisory groups to encourage and disseminate awareness, good practice and guidance to employers.
The Government responded and referred back to this being in line with the recent government response to the independent menopause and the workplace report where they committed to the appointment of a Menopause Employment Champion to drive forward work with employers on menopause workplace issues.
The Government accepted in part the recommendation for the Royal College of General Practitioners to make training on menopause a mandatory aspect of continuing professional development requirements for GPs.
They also accepted in part that the Government must act urgently to ensure that lower cost HRT prescriptions are being issued and dispensed, a further recommendation from the committee was focused around removing dual prescription charges for oestrogen and progesterone, replacing it with a single charge for all women. This the Government, agreed to in part and said that they are committed to reducing prescription charges for HRT and that the implementation of the bespoke HRT PPC will reduce annual prescription charges but they had no plans to implement any additional approaches to further reducing HRT prescription charges.
The Government’s response rejects five of the Committee’s recommendations outright, including the recommendation to consult on making menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and pilot a specific menopause leave policy.
The Committee recommended the Government work with a large public sector employer with a strong public profile to develop and pilot a specific menopause leave policy, however the Government rejected this as they gave examples of areas where they are already offering something similar such as within the Civil Service and NHS. They do not believe that introducing or piloting a specific policy for menopause leave is necessary and it is their aim to support menopausal women to remain in the workplace.
The Government rejected the consultation on how to amend the Equality Act to introduce a new protected characteristic of menopause and said that they received inadequate evidence during the inquiry to fully support this change in legislation. They felt that by implementing this, they could be at risk of inadvertently creating new forms of discrimination for example, discrimination towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions.
The Government feels that that a model menopause policy isn't necessary at this moment in time and although they agree with the Committee that there is much employers can and should do, the Government have many policies already underway or are planning which may address this such as the Health and Wellbeing Fund 2022 - 2025 theme which is women's reproductive wellbeing in the workplace. They felt that they want to avoid risk of duplication of efforts.
The Government did accept the recommendation for flexible working to be requested from day one.
In a letter to Health Minister Maria Caulfield, the Chair of the Committee Caroline Nokes expressed concern that the Government has “ignored the significant evidence base” for equality law reform and called on the Government to review its position. The Committee also highlights the low cost but high impact opportunities for model workplace menopause policies and menopause leave, which the Government has dismissed.
In the letter, the Committee highlighted 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.”
Though the Government said it has accepted, partly accepted or accepted in principle six of the recommendations, it comes under criticism from the Committee for not actually committing to any new work in response to the report.