Written evidence from Centre for Ageing Better [MEW0047]

 

About the Centre for Ageing Better

The UK’s population is undergoing a massive age shift. By 2050, one in four people will be over 65. The fact that many of us are living longer is a great achievement. But unless radical action is taken by the government, business and others in society, millions of us risk missing out on enjoying those extra years.

At the Centre for Ageing Better we want everyone to enjoy later life. We create change in policy and practice informed by evidence and work with partners across England to improve employment, housing, health and communities. We are a charitable foundation, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, and part of the government’s What Works Network.

 

Inequalities facing menopausal women

Menopause can have a profound effect on the health of older women and impact their working lives. Nearly eight out of 10 menopausal women are in work[1], and a survey found that one in four considered leaving work due to severe symptoms.[2] Hot flushes, fatigue and problems with concentration can have a real and lasting impact on women’s working lives. For women with existing health conditions, the menopause can worsen symptoms such as fatigue and brain fog. Menopause is also associated with and can exacerbate symptoms of Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions for women. MSK conditions are a leading cause of disability and forces people out of work prematurely. Although common in both men and women, MSK has a strong age gradient and is more common in women than men at every age.[3] 

 

There is lower awareness of other common symptoms such as sleep problems, anxiety and low mood, all of which can be debilitating for women’s physical and mental health. A survey by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists found that 44% of women they questioned believed the menopause had impacted their mental health.

 

 

Menopause and the workplace

Menopause continues to be an issue that is largely ignored as most women feel they cannot discuss the menopause at work. Menopausal symptoms can lead to embarrassment for working women or even negatively affect their mental health. A report by Better for Women found that 44% of menopausal women felt that there had been a detrimental impact on their mental health.[4] Other research has found that many employees do not want to disclose their difficulties to their line manager or within the wider organisation, especially if they are male or younger, in case they do not understand or are unsympathetic.[5]

 

Ageing Better’s recent report ‘Working Well?’ highlighted the impact of the menopause on older women with long-term health conditions in the workplace.[6] As well as managing symptoms of long-term conditions, some women also said that they found it difficult to talk openly about the menopause in their workplace. This was for a variety of reasons, including not feeling supported by managers and colleagues, and this was making it difficult for them to get the support they needed.

 

The Centre for Ageing Better’s guide to becoming an age-friendly employer outlines principles that can make the workforce more inclusive and supportive.[7] It is vital that employers are aware of the needs their employees might have and are committed to accommodating them. Making our workplaces age-friendly is crucial in adapting to our shifting demographics, and we must ensure that health and wellbeing needs of older women at work are considered in designing age-friendly workplaces. As workplaces re-establish post-pandemic and employers play their part in building back fairer, they can take the following actions to embed inclusive approaches to support menopausal women.

 

Flexible working is an important element in ensuring women are supported to remain in the workforce. Research by the DWP identifies flexible working as the key factor in enabling people to work longer, but nearly a third of over 50s don’t realise they have the right to request flexible working and almost a quarter aren’t comfortable asking.[8] Ageing Better ran an 18-month programme with large employers and developed a toolkit for employers to implement flexible working for over 50s.[9] The toolkit guides employers through developing clear policies and procedures around flexible working, facilitating open conversations between managers and staff, and creating a sense of shared responsibility to make flexible working arrangements work.

 

Economic impact on women

While there are many more women over 50 in work than there were 20 years ago – an increase from 53% to 68% of women aged 50-64 – this number is still 9 percentage points behind men (69% to 77%).[10] And by the time they are 65, even more women have dropped out of the workplace with under a third of women (32%) still in employment compared to 41% of men.

 

There are many reasons why people leave the workplace early but one of the most common is ill-health. Evidence shows that women are spending more of their lives in ill-health with disability-free life expectancy for women reversing.[11] We also found that conditions of the musculoskeletal system are more common in women than men at every age and menopause is known to worsen these conditions.

 

Ill-health forcing women out of the workplace early can have a significant impact on their financial security in later life. The life-time gender earnings gap stands at 41%, and the average man earns £643,000 over his working life compared to the average woman at £380,000.[12] Men’s greater pension contributions, tax relief, and higher employer contributions, means the difference in men’s and women’s earnings translates to an even wider pensions gap.[13] The average pension pot of a woman aged 45 to 54 is less than one third of a man’s, and for a woman age 65 this rises to one fifth. On top of this, long periods out of work for unpaid family caring means women receive £29,000 less than men in state pension over a 20-year period. There is also the fact that women are three times more likely to be working part-time compared to men which results in lower wages, savings and pensions contributions.[14] Consequently, many women approaching later life risk being financially and pension dependent on their partners, if they have partners.

 

 

Business in the Community created a toolkit for employers, containing a range of different things that they can do to support staff through the menopause – including recording menopause-related sickness absence as an ongoing health issue.

 

The Centre for Ageing Better’s guide tobecoming an age-friendly employerlays out what employers should do to support people with health conditions, many of which apply to the menopause. 

 

 

Recommendations for government

 

Recommendations for employers

 

September 2021


[1] Faculty of Occupational Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians (2016) Guidance on menopause and the workplace

[2] https://www.itv.com/news/2016-11-23/quarter-of-women-going-through-menopause-considered-leaving-work

[3] https://www.ageing-better.org.uk/health-state-ageing-2020

[4] Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2019) Better for women – improving the health and wellbeing of girls and women

[5] Griffiths A, MacLennan SJ, Hassard J.(2013) Menopause and work: an electronic survey of employees' attitudes in the UK.

[6] Centre for Ageing Better (2021) Working well? How the pandemic changed work for people with health conditions

[7] Centre for Ageing Better (2018) Becoming an age-friendly employer

[8] DWP (2015) Attitudes of the over 50s to Fuller Working Lives

[9] Centre for Ageing Better (2020) Flexible working for over 50s – A toolkit for employers

[10] ONS (2021) A05 SA: Employment, unemployment and economic inactivity by age group (seasonally adjusted)

[11] https://www.ageing-better.org.uk/health-state-ageing-2020

[12] CII (2020) Living a financially resilient life in the UK

[13] CII (2019) Solving women’s pension deficit to improve retirement outcomes for all

[14] https://www.ageing-better.org.uk/work-state-ageing-2020