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Period poverty shouldn’t shame those affected – it should shame us all

Baroness Sandip Verma
February 23, 2024

As the ongoing cost-of-living crisis continues to put pressure on household supermarket budgets and energy bills, it rightly remains firmly in the focus of both politicians and the media. However, we can’t continue to ignore another specific crisis that affects half the population: Period poverty.

Affecting one in five women and girls across the UK, period poverty forces millions to put their health at risk by using menstrual products for too long or reusing old products. Research from ActionAid UK shows how some have even resorted to using tissues, socks and newspapers just to help them carry on with their everyday lives.

Given the intrinsic common denominator The phenomenon of period poverty has only been the cost-of-living crisis and period poverty are intrinsically linked. With inflation rates reaching double figures between 2022 and 2023, period poverty levels rose by nearly 10 per cent.

With the UK economy still in a vulnerable position, this is a problem which will continue to result in tens of thousands of lost hours at schools and workplaces across the country each year. Crucially, these learning and earning opportunities are most frequently lost by some of the most vulnerable groups in society.

With inflation rates reaching double figures between 2022 and 2023, period poverty levels rose by nearly 10 per cent. Quote

In many communities a combination of shame and embarrassment means this problem simply isn’t spoken about, only serving to compound the problem. There surely must be no other human body function that occurs so frequently for so many, yet receives so little attention.

While free period product provision exists in English schools, there are wide disparities between access and availability, with one-third of girls reporting their own school regularly does not have adequate supplies, according to The Guardian.

From speaking with those impacted by period poverty, it’s vital that policymakers develop consistent and collaborative responses across the UK to ensure joined up provision that is free for all. Progressive policymaking in Scotland and Wales has seen cross-party moves to step up free provision of menstrual products, but access to the most basic of healthcare items shouldn’t be based on a postcode lottery.

Take the example of Ellie, who was completing an unpaid internship as a student when she first experienced period poverty. Forced to survive on minimal food each day, she told EachOther of the “horrific moment” when she realised she couldn’t afford to take care of herself and was forced to use makeshift tampons out of loo roll.

However, if Ellie lived in either Scotland or Wales, this simply wouldn’t have had to worry.

Progress on this issue has been painfully slow. Previously pledging to set up a taskforce to tackle period poverty back in 2019, the UK Government has demonstrated a willingness to work with campaigners and healthcare professionals to put an end to this injustice. Yet an apparent lack of funding has meant this group has not met since before the pandemic.

In an increasingly polarised political arena, the strong cross-party consensus enjoyed across many parts of the UK illustrates the desire for change. Indeed, I’ve met with leaders from local authorities from all the main parties who’ve worked within squeezed budgets to play their part in funding the local provision of free menstrual products.

Ministers in Whitehall should support local authorities and the devolved administrations to build on this desire for progress, and in turn boost outcomes for some of the most vulnerable people in society. Wider society wants to see action too with more than 50 business leaders, NGOs and campaigners recently joining me and a range of cross-party politicians to call for free access to what is such a basic healthcare necessity.

Ultimately, free period products should be just as much of a common sight as toilet rolls, with widespread availability in every public building, workplace and community across the country. To achieve this, we need the government to step in and take an active lead on the move towards scaling up a consistent level of access to free period products across the country. Investing in the health of half of the UK population is clearly the right thing to do for society, and for the economy.

Period poverty shouldn’t shame those affected – it should shame us all. Let’s stamp out this injustice for good.

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Baroness Sandip Verma is Chair of gender equality campaign, EMPOWER, and a former Ministerial Champion for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls.

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