Period poverty in Britain: a devastating reality

We know the upsetting realities of periods in developing countries across the globe, but do we really know the full extent and reality of period poverty in Britain?

Period poverty is a much deeper problem than one not being able to afford menstrual products. It has overwhelming effects on the individual’s entire life, with its ramifications lying in their education, work, and wellbeing.

In the UK, at least one in ten individuals is not in the position to buy menstrual products. As a result, a study by PHS Group with 250 young people suggests 35% of girls aged 13-18 have taken time off school or college because of their period, with 11% of those claiming they missed school. No child should have to miss education because they cannot afford a necessity.

When you discuss period poverty, the use of “poverty” instantly forces us to associate the problem with money and money alone. While the initial rise in the movement questioned why we were expected to be taxed on something so essential to us, this taxing came to a halt early this year and only really scratched the surface when it came to the extent of period poverty in Britain. The government’s decision to stop taxing period products also acted as a catalyst to questions such as should those who menstruate have to pay for period products at all?

According to a 2018 study commissioned by Intimina, the average woman spends around £4,800 on period products throughout her lifetime, with this amount increasing substantially for those with medical conditions such as endometriosis. This is a shattering statistic for those living on low incomes.

UEA was extremely progressive in this way by becoming one of the first universities to provide not only non-taxed but free menstrual products in their gender-neutral toilets on campus. The student union’s welfare, community, and diversity officer, Jo Swo, said: ‘Sanitary products are not a luxury, they are a necessity that UEASU believes every student should have free access to without questioning their financial background or shame.’

In an effort to attack this problem, legislation from the government came into effect which asks schools and colleges to provide students with free and accessible menstrual products,this is an incredibly important initiative. Through providing an easy way to access products, it helps to remove the stigma of periods being something to be ashamed of and removes the sense of humiliation.  

It is all well and good to abolish the period tax and to have these legislations in place, however period poverty reflects a much wider problem, and these efforts are simply not enough to combat such an important and devastating problem.

Although it is the law, schools are not held accountable for ensuring these products are completely accessible. Accessibility does not mean these schools have menstrual products available for students to go and collect. The schools’, and by extension the government’s, idea of accessibility shows the ignorance this country holds towards period poverty. It neglects the feelings of humiliation these young individuals can go through due to the government’s own lack of care in educating them.

The initiative is made completely redundant and ineffective when you combine it with the lack of education provided in schools. Accessibility needs to mean students can access these products in confidence while in the safe environment of their own privacy. These products need to be on clear display in all school toilets and the government needs to advocate for this program significantly more than they currently are.  

Period poverty encompasses an utter lack of understanding and education surrounding menstrual issues in this country. At the root of this problem lies a society trapped in the mindset that deems women’s issues as less important and this is reflected in the complete failure to educate individuals about menstruation. 

These schools penalise children for not attending school, yet they are the same institutions refusing to provide children with important menstrual education. It is this lack of education that encourages the stigmatisation of periods to remain present, both institutionally and societally, and as such our country is failing to provide a safe environment for children who are not in the extremely privileged position of being able to get hold of menstrual products.

Britain needs to end the stigma around periods because more and more young people are suffering from our government’s lack of interest and care.

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Lauren Bramwell

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June 2022
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