Endometriosis Workplace Support

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:42 pm on 29th October 2019.

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Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 3:42 pm, 29th October 2019

That is absolutely understood. It is underpinned by the Equality Act 2010, which protects workers in the workplace.

Unfortunately, as highlighted, there remains stigma and taboo attached to discussing health issues that affect women. I think my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price said that she was pleased to see so many men contributing or responding in this debate. I recognise that that is important. I also welcome the recent media focus on endometriosis, which has begun to break down some stigma and taboo. There is still a long way to go. This debate alone highlights the need to do more. Women, particularly young women, must know that they do not need to suffer in silence. This is one of the few issues that unites us across parties; those who have campaigned on this issue should take credit for helping to secure that cross-party support.

I find cause for optimism in parallels with work supporting other hidden disabilities, such as mental health issues, where we have been able to raise awareness. There has been a desire in all parts of society to improve what we can do. We need to replicate that with this condition in light of the concerns that have been raised.

The Government’s main role is to create conditions in which employers can do the right thing. In mid-July we published a consultation on proposals to reduce ill-health-related job loss, called “Health is everyone’s business”. The consultation closed on 7 October, but I will try to make sure that everything that has been raised today is fed into that. There were some helpful insights.

The proposals covered a range of areas, such as changes to the legal framework to encourage employers to intervene early during sickness absences and provide workplace modifications; the reform to statutory sick pay, which many Members have highlighted as an area of particular interest; and better provision of information and advice to employers on health issues in the workplace, which is important to me.

We often think about big businesses that have HR and personnel departments. As long as the key decision makers at the top can be convinced about what their organisation should be doing, there are professionals who are comfortable making sure that that is embedded in the culture of the organisation. As an example, I pay tribute to John Lewis & Partners; I spoke at an event in Parliament last week about its provision of good in-work health support for its staff.

However, over 50% of private sector jobs are in small or medium-sized businesses. With the best will in the world, they do not have HR or personnel departments, so we must do far more to ensure that they have information and to signpost them to organisations and groups that can provide the next level of support. I want to see that delivered through the Health and Safety Commission. We are brilliant at supporting safety in the workplace; we have to have the same approach on health and on improvements to the quality and accessibility of occupational health services. These proposals do not name and target specific conditions, but they will reduce ill-health-related job loss across the board, which will benefit those suffering with endometriosis.

I again thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell for highlighting the powerful words of many of the people who contacted him. I know that, with over 2,000 responses, he had a lot to choose from. One response that articulated the value of flexibility particularly well said:

“You don’t know how your pain is going to be that day. You could be absolutely fine, or you could be crippled.”

Being able to adjust workload on a given day, or to choose to work from home, will enable women who experience fluctuating symptoms like that to stay in work.

The Government are committed to showing employers the business case for this flexibility, and to showing that a more productive and engaged workforce, with better retention, will be the end result. I say that with genuine passion. I have employed many people with health conditions and disabilities, and I have benefited from that.

I have been grateful for the opportunity to address the issues raised. Endometriosis is a condition that we all need to take seriously, and those with the condition need all the support they can get. I trust I have been able to offer reassurances to hon. Members about the support and protection available, and about the measures that this Government are taking to support and encourage employers to support their employees with health conditions and create workplaces where everyone can thrive. We have much more to do. The all-party parliamentary group on endometriosis allows Members who have a real interest, passion and knowledge of this area to contribute. All Departments must take that seriously.

Finally, I pay tribute to all the volunteers who are providing support groups across the country, among our local communities. They are making a real difference, ensuring that people realise they are not suffering alone.