Carolyn Harris MP

November 12, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

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Carolyn Harris MP

 

Carolyn Harris MP 02Carolyn Harris MPby Jenny Smith

 

It's not possible to talk about the menopause these days without mentioning the incredible work of Carolyn Harris MP who has finally managed to get the subject on the political agenda.  A bill has just been passed in parliament making HRT affordable for all by allowing women to only have to pay for one prescription over the course of a year rather than several payments each time they need a repeat prescription.  But the bigger picture of what this bill means is that a taskforce has been set up, co-chaired by Carolyn, where the menopause will get the attention it deserves.  

It was an absolute delight to meet and photograph Carolyn for this project.  She's is thoroughly down to earth and really has her finger on the pulse of what we, as a public, want from our politicians.  By her own admission, she is living proof that anyone can become a politician having once been a barmaid and dinner lady.  She's a great believer that politicians should have real life experience before moving into the field; she was 55 when she became an MP.

My aim for this project was to shine a light on inspiring women over the age of 40, especially those who are speaking up for menopause awareness.  Well, I don't think I could have wished for a better person to take part.  Thank you Carolyn and thank you for wearing that awesome fur coat too!

 

Carolyn Harris MP 05Carolyn Harris MPby Jenny Smith

Thanks for taking part on the 40 OVER 40 project and for all your hard work for menopause awareness.  Can you tell me how the HRT Bill came about?

We'd been looking at what we could do to improve the whole agenda around the menopause including workplace practices, doctor's training, women’s lack of knowledge about it and the fact that we’re sending kids out of school and they know nothing about what to expect.  Everything comes back to that really, if we were prepared at school age then we probably wouldn’t be as disadvantaged as we are now. I focused on HRT after talking to an English colleague who was paying for her HRT prescriptions, where as I’m welsh and I don’t pay for prescriptions at all.  It was a bit like putting the lightbulb on. The HRT Bill is only a tiny tiny bit about the menopause revolution but it was the bit that we could use to get the government to do something. It’s done what I wanted it to do which is to give the attention to the menopause full stop, so every time I’m asked about the HRT Bill I say it was never ever about free HRT it was about the political agenda and the social agenda and the economic agenda and everyone’s awareness about the menopause. 

 

What are the next steps?

We need to keep the momentum going and that will happen in two ways. One is that the government has put a task force in place which they’ve asked me to co-chair.  The way I see that working is that when government are making policy the menopause will be taken into consideration in any future policies going forward.  The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) will be looking at the bones of it if you like, we’re going to be looking at good workplace practices, looking at why medical schools don’t put it on the curriculum, we’re going to be looking at what kinds of things are we are telling our kids in schools about what to expect, we’re going to be talking about relationships and what happens to relationships when a partner appears to lose interest when in reality it’s the menopause. I want to talk to women who, like me, have been experiencing the menopause but not realising it and maybe like me who’ve been on antidepressants or they’ve been on medication for fibromyalgia but still not feeling any better and they go back to the doctor and get sent for more tests and then have medication for something else and nobody is saying hang on let's join the dots here, this may be the menopause. I want every workplace to recognises it, every woman to understand what she’s going through, every doctor and nurse in general practice and in private practice to have a knowledge of it and be able to diagnose and prescribe and have kids who, when they leave school, understand that there will come a time in their life when somebody close to them will experience this and what they need to do to deal with it.

 

Carolyn Harris MPby Jenny Smith

My mother never ever ever spoke to me about the menopause, I’ve said this umpteen times but I can remember her having a conversation with her sisters and I was told to leave the room and I was 36! They didn’t want to be talking about that kind of thing in front of me but that was what it was like then. Les Dawson taught me more about the menopause than anyone else when he was making fun of it saying he was on the change.  It was like something nobody spoke about and if you did speak about it you spoke about it in hushed tones.  Why do we pretend it’s not happening? Of course we’ve now had the private members bill and started the APPG, and then Davina McCall did her documentary and Penny Lancaster did her stuff and all of a sudden these women, who are actually in the spotlight who historically would be terrified to talk about the fact they were getting older because they’re in a business which doesn’t allow you to get old, are speaking up.  The reaction has been phenomenal.

 

What's your take on the ageing process?

I feel a lot better about it now.  I go through this whole thing where I think, what have you done with your life?  I think what’s going to be on my tombstone? And sometimes and think oh God I’ve never really done anything. I’ve got an interesting job but I’m not special in any way, it’s just that I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been in the right place at the right time. I worry that there are women out there who, like me, have got the basic skills but are not actually getting to use them because they feel 'I’m too old for this'.  I was a dinner lady and a barmaid, that’s how I started out, and I just think that there are loads of dinner ladies and barmaids and people who work in shops and factories who have got a fantastic story to tell, a fantastic ability who are really in touch with reality and we need more of those women to come forward and to actually start thinking about what it is that they can do to make life better for other people, and then age doesn’t matter, does it? It’s about using your experience. Life experience is the best university of life. So many people who are really well qualified academically have got no common sense at all so life experience is so important in making the right decisions in life and to treating life as a way of using your experience to make somebody else's life better.  That’s what I think about age, it’s the experience it gives you that gives you the skills to do wonderful things.  

 

Carolyn Harris MPby Jenny Smith

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I‘ve got terrible imposter syndrome, terrible, and even now I keep expecting someone’s going to tap me on the shoulder and say you shouldn’t be here. I didn’t go to university until I was 34 and I think if I had my time over again I would be saying to myself you can do this and you are no worse than anyone else, you are just as good as everyone else. I’m brilliant at telling other people that but I’ve never been very good at telling myself that, I think I would be giving myself a talking to about how I can do these things because I’m as good as anyone else.

 

What advice do you have for young women who are considering a career in politics?

It can be a bloody horrible place, let’s make no mistake about it. Social media and the way people talk to politicians, especially women politicians is an absolute nightmare, it’s horrendous, but go out there and do something else first. Cut your teeth on working in a shop, working in a factory, working just a normal job.  You haven’t got to be from a section of society which is privileged and has all singing all dancing education and opportunities.  I think the best politicians are those who represent the people because they are OF the people. I know my constituency because I was born there, I was brought up there, I know the history of it because I’ve lived it and I would never have wanted to come into politics any earlier than I did because I think I brought with me a deeper understanding of what it’s like to live in Swansea East, I know all the problems that people experience. I’ve gone through times when I’ve worried about how I was going to pay the electricity bill and worried about when the phone bill is due and how are we going to pay for xmas, and it’s only then that you understand that you can really help the people you’re meant to be representing. Not telling people how to live, helping them. Never be afraid to do something else on the way to getting to your dreams. There’s nothing wrong with being a waitress, if you want to be a doctor and being a waitress is going to get you there, brilliant.  Or you can be a waitress all your life and still be wonderful. 

 

Carolyn Harris MPby Jenny Smith

What are your thoughts on getting older?

Age doesn’t mean a thing when you’re aiming for the stars. If you get there when you’re 15 or you get there when you’re 105. If you’re meant to get there you will get there. Just use all the experience you were given.  

Thank you Carolyn for taking part in the 40 OVER 40 project.  To hear more about Carolyn's own experience of the menopause download my podcast, Dear Hormones, out on 23 November 2021.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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