Period Poverty in the UK
Period poverty is an umbrella term that refers to inequities surrounding menstruation and access to menstrual products. It is a global issue, with research from the American Civil Liberties Union estimating that ‘on any given day there are 800,000,000 people on the planet who are menstruating, of whom at least 500,000,000 lack adequate resources – basic supplies, facilities, information and support – for managing their periods’.
It is an issue that is prevalent in the United Kingdom, with research from Plan International revealing that ‘in the UK, 1 in 10 girls can’t afford to buy menstrual products, while 1 in 7 have struggled to afford them’. The charity Bloody Good Period estimates that the average lifetime cost of having a period amounts to £4,800. The high price could be attributed to the fact that currently, under the controversial ‘tampon tax’, tampons, sanitary pads, and menstrual cups have 5% VAT (value added tax) added to their price, as they are categorised as “non-essential, luxury goods”. In a welcome step in the right direction, it was announced in the 2020 budget that the tax would be scrapped by 31st December 2020, marking the end of a 20 year campaign by women’s rights activists. However, this does not negate the financial strain already incurred by budgeting for the cost of a period. The strain is felt even more acutely by those from low-income backgrounds and those who are homeless, with the charity In Kind Direct finding that ‘37% of the nation and 56% of 18 to 24-year-olds – have had to go without hygiene or grooming essentials, or cut down on them due to lack of funds’. In some cases this can result in prolonged use of the same tampons or pads, leading to infection. There is concern that with the added financial strain of the Covid-19 pandemic and financial instability, the experience of period poverty will be exacerbated for many.
Period poverty is not exclusively a financial issue. It also relates to the stigma surrounding menstruation. For some, this experience of stigma revolves around religious dogma that has linked menstruation with impurity. For others, it relates to our society’s more general discomfort with the topic of periods and menstruation. Research from Plan found that ‘48% of girls aged 14-21 are embarrassed by their periods’, ‘almost 71% of girls said they felt embarrassed about buying period products’ and ‘1 in 10 girls had been asked not to talk about periods in front of their mother or father’. This embarrassment is carried into adulthood. Bloody Good Period have just released a new initiative called Bloody Good Employers, where they draw awareness to experiences of menstruation in the workplace, and demand that employers support menstrual health. Some experiences include ‘disguising the rustle of pad packaging in the work loo’ and ‘hearing time of the month jokes’.
This culture of shame is harmful because it prevents necessary conversations about periods, which ultimately leads to a lack of education about the experience of menstruating. One major implication of this is that knowledge of effective pain treatment for periods is low, with studies showing that girls ‘with period pain experience reduced classroom performance and a lower level of class attendance’. Period pain or period poverty can also lead to individuals missing school, with onepoll.com revealing that ‘over the course of a year, 137,700 children in the UK miss school because of period poverty’ and Plan showing that ‘49 per cent of girls have missed an entire day of school because of their period’, with 59% of these girls making up ‘a lie or alternative excuse’. Research demonstrates that ‘if a pupil misses school every time they have their period, they are set 145 days behind their fellow students’. Therefore, a lack of education surrounding periods has the potential to have major impacts on the educational development of those that menstruate, which can have a knock on effect in terms of their further education, future career prospects etc.
What can you do?
The Department for Education launched a scheme to tackle period poverty whereby, from January 2020, schools in England are able to order free period products. However, an article released last week revealed that only 40% of state schools and colleges have placed orders since it launched. If you live in England, contact your local schools to bring awareness to this scheme and urge them to take part in it.
In April 2019, the Welsh government announced the Period Dignity Grant for Schools, where £2.3 million would be distributed to local authorities across Wales to provide schools with the funds to be able to provide free period products to individuals who menstruate. If you live in Wales, contact your local schools to ensure they have made use of this scheme. If you work in a school, ensure that students are aware they can access period products for free. Also, initiate more conversation about periods with students in order to break down the stigma surrounding menstruation.
Follow period poverty campaigns:
There are lots of non-profit organisations and campaigns working to tackle period poverty and end the stigma surrounding periods. Show support by donating to their cause or following their social media accounts. Examples include:
Consume ethically and donate:
When buying period products, if you can afford to, buy from companies who have pledged to tackle and are actively drawing awareness to period poverty. You could also donate sanitary products to local food banks, homeless shelters or Women’s Sector charities who can distribute them to those in need.
Author: Bethan Gilson, CWA Volunteer Blogger