There is a prevalent problem in today’s society that isn’t being talked about enough: period poverty. Period poverty is when a menstruating woman is too poor to afford sanitary products like pads or tampons. Period poverty is happening right here right now, in low-income households all over the UK. Many girls as young as nine have had cause to use socks or tissue paper as sanitary products. It goes without saying that socks and tissue paper are not effective means of blood absorption and it is frankly horrifying to hear that some girls have had to resort to such measures.
According to Plan International UK, one in ten disadvantaged girls cannot afford tampons. Some young girls decide to truant from school for as long as a week each month in order to avoid the embarrassment of bleeding on their clothes due to not having sufficient sanitary products. This means that, in an average school year of 35 weeks, just under a third of that time is being spent at home due to menstruation. Missing such a large amount of school, particularly during pivotal school years such as Year 11 and Year 13, for GCSE and A Level exams respectively, is problematic and can lead to extremely poor school results. It is a spiral of decline here as poor school results lead to increased difficulty in attending a university or finding a job, which could mean an inability to transcend class barriers and move away from their low-income background, which is something many want to do.
Meghan Markle, previous Suits actress and future addition to the British Royal Family, is a long-time activist that is extremely passionate about period poverty. She previously wrote a long-form essay about period poverty and the class divisions it contributes to and how it can stop people from low-income backgrounds from achieving their full potential as a result. The UN Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that education is a basic human right, which should be afforded to all, regardless of background. A low-income background, making it unlikely for someone to be able to afford sanitary products, should not be a reason for a child being unable to attend school and learn.
When an issue such as period poverty, posing an extreme barrier to young girls’ education, can be fixed simply by giving low-income families free access to sanitary products, there is no explanation as to why it can’t be done.
The cost of sanitary products are extremely high - the Free Periods organisation estimates that “menstrual products cost more than £18,000 in a woman’s life (£13 a month)”. £13 a month can be considered expensive for most people, but if you compare it to a Netflix or Spotify subscription, it is not much more. However, when you are living paycheck-to-paycheck and are unable to afford even a Netflix subscription, the cost of sanitary products can be a debilitating expense. It is no wonder that many low-income families cannot afford to provide sanitary products for their menstruating children - they have prioritise rent, electricity and water bills and food.
Free Periods also estimates that it would cost approximately £4.78m to give free sanitary products to the 208,000 girls around the country that are currently eligible for and receive free school meals under the government’s benefit schemes. In comparison to the government’s defence budget for £35 billion, the demand is a small fraction of their budgetary measures. One way of funding these sanitary products could be the use of the tampon tax fund. Sanitary products are currently taxed at 5% as a luxury product while condoms, for instance, are taxed as a necessity. People view sanitary products as a luxury product as they seem to think that we choose to menstruate when, really, it is extremely necessary for everyone to have steady access to sanitary products. Most argue that the tampon tax should be done away with altogether, which Tesco recently made some strides towards by deciding to pay the tax for their customers. However, some people have made a strong argument that the tampon tax could be used to subsidise or completely cover pads and tampons for people who can’t afford it. While fundamentally, most people disagree with the tampon tax due to the sexist connotations it brings up, I think that a majority of people would be happy to pay the tampon tax to subsisde sanitary products for low-income children. It would certainly be a better use of that money than the government’s decision last year to award £250,000 to the anti-abortion charity, Life, amongst outcry from many MPs and women-based charities and groups. According to the Guardian, the £12m fund from the tampon tax would go to 70 organisations that “would improve the lives of disadvantaged women and girls”. But, it seems that neither the government nor these organisations have chosen not to focus on period poverty for young women.
Clearly period poverty is an ongoing issue with no clear solution in sight, unfortunately. It is an problem that The Jaded Project is extremely passionate about aiding in any way possible. If you’re reading this and find yourself filled with that same urge, we’d recommend contacting your local shelter or food banks to donate a spare box of pads when you can. Many Tesco Superstores have donation bins in their stores, which is extremely convenient. Charities recommend donating pads instead of tampons (although these are great too!) as they are a more valued commodity. There are a number of charities dedicated to this cause, such as Free Periods, Bloody Good Period and The Homeless Period. They are always accepting donations and volunteers. Free Periods’ founder, Amika George, has also submitted a petition to lobby the government for “Free Sanitary Products for All Children on Free School Meals” - the petition has been signed by over 150,000 people as of writing and George asks that we all sign it.
No person should have to stuff a sock in their underwear to catch ‘Aunt Flo’; we can end period poverty now, if we work together.