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Minister for women and equalities Kemi Badenoch told the Women and Equalites Committee that making the menopause a protected characteristic which can be used in discrimination claims was not something the Government would do or consult on.
The minister for women and equalities today defended the Government’s rejection of a recommendation to consider the menopause a protected characteristic in law.
Kemi Badenoch told the Women and Equalities Committee that the Government has no intention of adding protected characteristics like the menopause to the Equality Act because the Act protects “immutable” characteristics, although the Act does protect against pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Campaigners argue that menopause affects more of the population than pregnancy and maternity issues. Badenoch added that women going through the menopause can already claim discrimination under the characteristics of sex, age and disability if they want to take legal action against their employer.
“Creating a special characteristic for the menopause misunderstands what the Equality Act is for,” said Badenoch. She added later that “amending the Equality Act is a big decision” and said that people wanted to use it for lots of different interests. For instance, she said people were petitioning to have ginger hair, different accents or height considered protected characteristics.
Caroline Nokes, chair of the Committee, said the Committee’s recent report on the menopause only called for a consultation on making the menopause a protected characteristic and yet even this had been rejected. Badenoch said Government ministers could “spend all their lives” calling for consultations and there was no point in having a consultation on something that the Government would not be doing. “It’s not a good use of our time or resources,” she stated.
A recent major study found that women who reported one problematic menopause symptom at age 50 were 43% more likely to leave their jobs by the age of 55 and nearly 25% more likely to reduce their hours.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Menopause, asked what the Government’s objection was to a pilot for menopause leave. Badenoch said this was not something for the Government to do. Its attention was spread so thinly that ministers were in danger of missing important things. She added that lots of good work is being done on the menopause by the Department for Work and Pensions which she is happy to support. She mentioned the menopause employment champions initiative which the DWP is expected to roll out soon. Harris asked what the difference was between supporting menopause champions or a pilot. Badenoch said a pilot would require more resources and she did not believe it would help women going through the menopause.
Badenoch was appearing before the Committee for the first time since she was appointed Secretary of State for Business and Trade. She said the dual role, which has come in for criticism from campaigners on the basis that it is impossible to do a major Cabinet role and focus on the women and equalities brief, meant she had more levers to pull to help women and other disadvantaged groups. She mentioned childcare, although she said there was little she could do to solve the problem as it was something for the Treasury and the Department for Education.
Other issues raised include the Section 35 order with regard to Scotland’s gender recognition bill and ethnic minority pay gap reporting. Badenoch said ethnicity pay gap reporting is not the same as gender pay gap reporting and, questioning the rigour of the data on which voluntary reporting is based, she said that when she had been working in a corporate she had seen “a lot of junk initiatives to pacify ethnic minorities”. Fourteen of the FTSE100 companies voluntarily report on their ethnicity pay gap. Badenoch said she had not looked at the specifics of how they do that, but emphasised that there is a need to make sure that people doing voluntary reporting are doing it properly.