Women Unison members march. Photo Paul Mattsson

Alexis Edwards, Hackney Socialist Party

“Menopause leave rejected as it ‘could discriminate against men’”. These were the types of headlines the media spewed out following a parliamentary report on Menopause in the workplace.

‘Menopause leave’ was only one of the 11 out of 12 recommendations that the Tory government rejected, either entirely or in part. Yet this, probably the least significant of the recommendations, is the one the media chose to highlight.

In fact, the report includes some vital, well-overdue recommendations. Most urgently needed is a programme of education and awareness, not least within the medical profession.

Up to now, menopause has been an ‘optional extra’ in doctors’ training. Far too many women continue to be diagnosed and treated for anxiety and depression, rather than their symptoms being recognised as the onset of the menopause.

However, the recommendation “that the Royal College of General Practitioners makes training on menopause a mandatory aspect of continuing professional development requirements for GPs” and “in the meantime, all GP surgeries should ensure that at least one member of their clinical staff has received specific training around menopause” was only accepted in part. In effect kicking this into the long grass, and clearly showing no genuine commitment to addressing this situation.

Similarly, an element of this recommendation covers the need to develop high-quality training for teachers, to equip them with the knowledge to include menopause in relationship, sex and health education to all pupils. The government response to the issues of schools amounts to a lot of waffle: “As part of this work, we will consider the need for menopause resources” – another fob-off!

Another vital element of the recommendations is that of prescription charges. It highlights the need to remove dual prescription charges for oestrogen and progesterone and advocates the provision of 12-month prescriptions.

While the government claims to be committed to reducing the cost of HRT (hormone replacement therapy) prescriptions and working to develop a bespoke prepayment certificate, it rejected the recommendation for 12-month prescriptions “because this could have a detrimental impact on the current supply situation for HRT medicines”. This opens up the whole question of the role of the pharmaceutical industry, and the need for nationalisation and for free access to all healthcare, including prescriptions, and democratic planning and control of a fully public NHS.

There is only one recommendation in the report that the government supports in full – to “bring forward legislation before the end of the current parliament to make the right to request flexible working a day-one right for all employees”. Sounds good, eh? But when we mean better working hours, the Tories are talking about zero-hour contracts! Like parents’ right to request flexible working, there is nothing to guarantee requests will be granted.

Sickness-absence procedures are designed as nothing more than a sacking tool. Menopause-related should be treated in the same way as pregnancy, and be discounted from sickness-absence calculations.

Trade unions have a crucial role to play in organising to ensure that adequate workplace policies on menopause exist and are implemented in practice.

The Tories’ rejection of proposals for menopause leave as ‘discriminatory’ is a typical, dishonest divide-and-rule tactic. It’s a distraction from the acute need to improve life for all of us, and ultimately the need to end the capitalist system that continues to fail to meet our needs.