Women’s Health Outcomes

Baroness Eaton Excerpts
Thursday 8th July 2021

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, it is nearly 40 years since a group of us women set up our country’s first women’s health advocacy group, with the aim of improving both equality of access for women’s health and prenatal mortality rates for women and babies, in addition to unlocking women’s voices and choices of maternity care. According to the same project, to this day women’s experiences remain poor and unequal.

While we continue to frame minority women, particularly Muslim women, within the parameters of numerous health and social problems, including domestic violence and cultural disadvantages, Muslim women’s presence in the public square remains negligible and they are mostly absent from NHS management and decision-making boards. Some minority women, when they are in such positions, feel so constrained in their advocacy on racism, prejudice and Islamophobia that in order to avoid political rejection they feel unable to effect any meaningful changes for women, who continue to have no voice and to experience generations of poor health and inequalities, as my noble friend Lord Boateng so ably pointed out.

The experience of Islamophobia is deep-rooted, affecting every sinew of politics, policies and, therefore, services. In maternity and care services, Islamophobia has continued to impact the quality of care, attitudes and behaviours for the last five decades. It is so regrettable that women continue to experience these painful inequalities. I do hope the new strategies that the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, so powerfully highlighted will speak to all women in all communities.

Baroness Eaton Portrait Baroness Eaton (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lady Jenkin on her excellent introduction to this very important debate.

As we have heard, one of the biggest health issues for women is mental health, which has been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. Evidence suggests, and the front-line experience of GPs I have spoken to shows, that women are more prone than men to experiencing anxiety, depression and somatic complaints. Depression is the most common mental health problem for women and suicide is a leading cause of death in women under 60. Linked to this, there has been an increase in physical and psychological problems and sexual abuse, with increasing domestic violence towards women.

During the pandemic, the resulting reduction in sexual health and pregnancy services has caused serious problems. Women’s health is incredibly important because women are frequently the cornerstone of a family’s overall health and well-being. They are carers of children, providers of home schooling and often carers of elderly, sick and/or disabled family members. There is clearly a major impact on the family when there is a deterioration in women’s health.

It is estimated that 28% of women over 65 have diagnosable depression but only 15% will receive treatment from the NHS. Ensuring that women have access to quality and appropriate care directly leads to improved health for children and families. Future service provision should mean co-producing collaborative care models that encourage service users and clinicians to engage in a shared understanding of care needs, treatment and support preferences. This agenda should prompt greater public mental health and preventive self-management. I am impressed by the work being done by Dynamic Health Systems, a company about to launch an evidence-based, artificial intelligence-enabled platform for the self-management of mental health conditions by individuals and populations. An appropriate and effective mental health service needs a gender-informed approach, with services diagnosed to take account of the differential needs of women and men. There must be recognition of the need to collect gender-informed health and social care data. If women’s mental health services are to improve, successful implementation requires a workforce trained in gender differences in mental health.

Can my noble friend the Minister clarify in his response the approach that the Government will take to wider mental health support, particularly in suicide prevention work? What support are the Government giving to the self-management of mental health through digital services such as those to which I have referred?

Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, for this debate.

The key to reversing poor health for women is ensuring that the Government provide a range of public services related to women’s health, child and family care, domestic violence and reproductive and sexual health, as well as a just redistribution of wealth and income. Fiscal and welfare policies have major consequences for women but government announcements are rarely accompanied by any gender impact assessment.

Wage freezes for public sector workers have hit women the hardest, as many occupy low-paid jobs, but there has been no gender impact assessment even though poverty levels are higher for female-headed households. By freezing personal allowances, the 2021 Budget will force poorly paid women to pay more in tax. The 107 pages of the Budget document uses to the word “women” just three times. Childcare was not even mentioned. Some 46% of mothers being made redundant say that lack of childcare is a major factor in their redundancy.

The Government are cutting universal credit by £1,040 a year. That is not accompanied by any assessment of the impact on women. Janet Mackay from Oxfordshire wrote to me. She stated:

“My disabled daughter can’t just get a job and this cut will lower her quality of life. It’s monstrous to do this to the disabled.”

Despite gender inequalities, the Government raised the state pension age to 66 and deprived millions of 1950s-born women of their state pension for six years. The impact assessment said little about the quality of life for women. It does not get any easier after retirement either. As a fraction of average earnings, the UK state pension is one of the lowest in the industrialised world. The charity Independent Age has reported that 2.1 million pensioners are living in poverty and 1.1 million in severe hardship. People aged over 85 are most affected, and women are worse affected than men.

I therefore ask the Minister to give a public undertaking that all fiscal and welfare policies will be accompanied by an impact assessment from women’s perspective.