Ministers’ decision to reject five key menopause policies constitutes a “missed opportunity” to stop “vast numbers of talented and experienced” women from quitting their jobs, the Women and Equalities Committee in the Commons said.
Caroline Nokes, the committee’s chair, penned a letter to Maria Caulfield, the health minister, which raised concerns that ministers have overlooked the “significant evidence base” for overhauling equality law.
Commenting on the government’s “belated response” to their report, which was published on Tuesday, the Conservative MP said it makes her feel “unconvinced that menopause is a government priority”.
Ms Nokes added: “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.”
Last summer, MPs warned that a lack of support for women going through menopause in the workplace was driving workers out of their jobs and prompting the UK economy to “haemorrhage talent”.
The damning report, by the Women and Equalities Committee, suggested employers’ dearth of provision for menopausal women will have repercussions on the gender pay and pension gaps, as well as the number of women taking up senior leadership roles.
Among other recommendations, the research urged the government to overhaul the Equality Act so menopause is established as a protected characteristic, as well as including a responsibility for workplaces to deliver “reasonable adjustments” for workers grappling with menopause.
The majority of the 3.4 million women between 50 and 64 in the UK will be experiencing symptoms of menopause – ranging from heart palpitations to hot flushes, vaginal pain, anxiety and depression.
A recent survey of 4,000 women aged between 45 and 55 by the Fawcett Society, a gender equality charity, and Channel 4, discovered that one in 10 women in the UK have left their jobs due to suffering menopause symptoms.
Maria Mayes, who previously worked in a pharmacy, told The Independent the menopause pushed her out of her job as well as making her feel “depressed, irritable and very, very low”.
The 64-year-old said: “My symptoms were not controlled. I found the work environment very stressful. Suddenly I would get hot and it would feel like I was going to faint. I would feel very tired.
“My brain wasn’t working. I was doing the job for many years but suddenly I wasn’t very good at it. I was struggling to remember things. We were under a lot of pressure. We had a very difficult manager.”
Ms Mayes, who left her job at the age of 58, explained she had two meetings with women managers slightly younger than herself which didn’t go well.
She added: “I felt l wasn’t being understood and heard. The menopause pushed me out of the workplace. I was pushed to do things without my managers’ understanding I was struggling.”
You lose yourself as a person during menopause. You don’t recognise yourself. You are not the woman you were when you were younger. The main symptom for me was being overwhelmed. I had two accidents while driving – the menopause was partly to blame. I was not thinking right.”
Carolyn Harris, a Labour MP who chairs the parliamentary group which specialises in menopause, told The Independent ministers’ reluctance to accept the Women and Equalities committee menopause report demonstrates “a total lack of understanding of how debilitating” menopause symptoms can be.
“Their refusal to provide more support for women shows a complete and utterly contemptible disrespect for women,” she added. “For far too long women suffering menopausal symptoms have been forced out of jobs.”