Why Period Poverty is about so much more than free pads (part 1)

There’s no doubt that finally the most of the UK has started to address period poverty. Since the 2016 film I, Daniel Blake raised awareness nationally about the issue of period poverty in the UK, everyone from individual local councils to – finally – Westminster has promised to tackle this problem that many couldn’t believe was an issue in a country as wealthy as ours.

In this two part post, we’ll discuss the developments in the UK’s handling of period poverty, and go on to consider what period poverty actually is. Is it really just girls missing school because they can’t afford tampons? Or does it go deeper than that?

It’s been easy to get pretty confused at times with all the developments and who’s done what when in terms of addressing period poverty in the UK. It’s hard to keep up with all the changes, so when we were invited recently to deliver some training on all things politically period related for the crew running the awesome Red Sea Travel Agency at this year’s Shambala festival, we thought we’d put together a little potted history of the UK’s handling of period poverty over the past 3 years. And where better to also share this history but here! So here you go:

2017: Reports of girls missing school in Leeds due to period poverty lead to national outrage and the formation of The Red Box Project in Portsmouth (from just a few boxes providing free products to schools in the local area, this movement has spread to well over 2000 boxes countrywide). Scotland started paying attention and ran a pilot scheme in Aberdeen addressing period poverty. In their manifesto, the Labour Party announced they would allocate £10million to eradicating period poverty and Amika George started the #freeperiod movement.  This culminated in The Pink Protest march in London in December, calling on the UK government to provide free menstrual products for school children on free school meals.

2018: Things really get moving…Plan International published their ‘Break the Barriers’ report, which found that 10% girls they spoke to couldn’t afford menstrual products. Bloody Good Period was started in London to provide free products to food banks and asylum seeker drop ins, and Hey Girls! was launched in Scotland – a social enterprise aiming to tackle period poverty with their buy-one-give-one menstrual product business. The Tampon Tax awarded £15million to charities tackling period poverty, and Plan International & Brook launched their Let’s Talk. Period campaign. Next up Celtic Football Club started providing period products free in their toilets following a huge #OnTheBall petition started by three fans, and many other FCs around the country have since followed suit. The Welsh Assembly announced a £1million fund to tackle period poverty then the Scottish Government put £5.2million into providing free menstrual products in all Scottish schools, colleges and universities. In the absence of any similar central Government funding, several English councils started tackling the issue locally, starting with Leeds, closely followed by GloucestershireNorfolk and Bristol (quite possibly more have done similar).

2019: The Scottish Government started the year off in style, upping the ante again by promising a further £4million to provide products free in public spaces like leisure centres and libraries. The NHS announced it would provide free products for anyone in their care and finally the UK Government joined the action. Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced products would be provided in secondary schools and universities, and after pressure added that primary schools would benefit too. The Welsh Assembly announced £2.3million to provide products in Welsh primary and secondary schools, leaving only Northern Ireland without a plan to provide products in schools. Finally, 2019 has also seen the formation of the Period Poverty Taskforce, set up by the then Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt. This Taskforce, co-chaired by the Minister, Plan International and Proctor & Gamble was announced in March and launched this week, the day before Penny Mordaunt was replaced as Minister for Women & Equalities by Amber Rudd, in the new Boris Johnson administration. It remains to be seen if the Taskforce continues, we hope it does. It was set up to explore solutions to period poverty and reduce menstrual stigma both in the UK and internationally. Needless to say, we are dubious about the positioning of Proctor & Gamble as one of the three co-chairs, with their obvious vested interest in the issue, but we shall see how it develops. Many small organisations have been invited to join the Taskforce to bring their expertise and experience to inform the Government and help build best practice. Announcements have been delayed until September, so watch this space.

Whilst there is evidently still much work to be done, and providing products in schools is only addressing part of the problem, it is at least a good start and proof that our politicians are listening. The story internationally varies country to country. Whilst access to products may be an issue for some here, access to clean water, safe toilets and washing facilities are much more pressing issues for many millions of people experiencing periods worldwide. We may just be waking up to the realities of period poverty here in the UK, but internationally it has been, and continues to be, a serious issue for a very long time.

In part 2 we’ll consider – will all this action really solve the issue of period poverty?