Endometriosis Workplace Support

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:36 pm on 29th October 2019.

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Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment) 3:36 pm, 29th October 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate Alec Shelbrooke on securing this important debate.

We have heard excellent and powerful contributions from 15 hon. Members about the profound impact that this complex and debilitating condition can have on our constituents—and on Members of the House, including my hon. Friend Louise Haigh. It is extraordinary to think that nearly as many women in the UK have endometriosis as have diabetes, yet the suffering associated with it is often private and unseen. Part of the issue is a still-ingrained culture of silence and even shame when it comes to women’s reproductive health, and the pervasive attitude that serious menstrual pain is normal and natural. It is not.

When such attitudes collide with working life, the effects on women can be profound. For the 30% of women with the disease who have severe endometriosis, the condition can stop them working in the way they want. As we heard from hon. Members across the House, some women report finding conventional, full-time jobs impossible to hold down because of the impact of the condition on the hours they can work—zero-hours contracts have been mentioned—and the tasks they can perform. In some cases, women are literally managed out of work. Recent research shows that such actions can lead to those women who are most severely affected losing on average more than £5,000 in earnings a year, and one in six women gives up work entirely. We cannot afford to ignore this condition any longer.

Workplace attitudes often do not help. Today, we have listened to the experiences of women, and we heard the same stories over and over: when it comes to endometriosis, women are often not believed or supported by doctors, employers or even loved ones. Almost all women who responded to a recent BBC survey on endometriosis felt that their career had been hampered. The knock-on effects of endometriosis on mental health are shocking; almost half of the women surveyed reported that they had experienced suicidal thoughts.

Endometriosis UK provides information and guidance for employers and employees, but workplace guidance from the Government is still lacking. Endometriosis is not mentioned in several mainstream Government resources on occupational health and disability. Government acknowledgement is a vital part of awareness and recognition of endometriosis; in the absence of that acknowledgment, the condition is often framed as a performance issue, rather than a health concern. Will the Minister commit to changing this discriminatory practice? As Sir David Amess highlighted, some of that has to do with the Department for Work and Pensions.

Another problem raised by Endometriosis UK is statutory sick pay. The current guidance limits statutory sick pay to three years—much less than half of the average time it takes a woman suffering from endometriosis to be diagnosed, let alone their total time living with the condition. Endometriosis is a chronic, complex and fluctuating condition. Will the Minister do everything he can to ensure that statutory sick pay reflects reality?

Concerns have also been raised by the Work Foundation about how guidance for benefits such as the personal independence payment covers endometriosis. It has been suggested that its potential severity is not accurately reflected in guidance provided to assessors. Concerns have also been raised that references to “lifelong” conditions in disability policy have the potential to exclude women with this condition. Considering the number of women affected by endometriosis, and its impact on working lives, what will the Minister do to investigate that and ensure that women receive the support they need?

In 2017, the main recommendation in the first ever guidance on endometriosis produced by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence was that medical professionals should “listen to women”. I advise the Government to do the same. Listen to what has been said in the Chamber. Listen to research and testimony. Listen to the outcome of the APPG inquiry. Listen to what women, and the organisations that represent them, are telling Ministers about the help that they need, and commit to addressing the unacceptable shortcomings in support for those who suffer with endometriosis.