The UK is currently in the midst of a cost of living crisis - gas and electricity bills are rising, whilst food prices have increased by 9.8% as of June 2022. Unfortunately, according to The Grocer, the menstrual care sector has also been hit with record inflation and supply chain issues, meaning menstruating women face the additional burden of rising costs of period products. Despite the government's attempts to challenge period poverty, girls and women throughout the UK still face the decision between period or education; sanitary pads or groceries.
What is period poverty?
Period poverty can be defined as the lack of access to sanitary products, as well as a lack of knowledge as to how to manage menstruation due to financial reasons. Women and girls worldwide are dealing with period poverty; girls are missing school, whilst many women depend on food banks or use cheaper, more accessible resources such as toilet paper instead of suitable period products.
Following determined campaigning from the charity Girlguiding, the Department for Education implemented a scheme to deliver free period products to schools and colleges across England in 2020. Whilst we welcome this scheme with open arms, Girlguiding has since found that it ceases to prevent stigma and shame regarding menstruation, with 32% of girls stating that products aren’t readily available and need to ask a teacher for access. Many girls benefit from accessing free period products, as outside of school, they’re too expensive; a vast 77% agree that sanitary products are too costly, with 1 in 10 being unable to afford them. It’s unacceptable that 10% of girls are relying on the off-chance that schools/colleges will have unrestricted, accessible products to aid menstruation. According to Bodyform, 137,700 children in the UK miss school over the course of the year due to period poverty.
The economic state of the UK aggravates period poverty. Research from Plan International UK found that 19% of girls aged 14-21 have been unable to afford period products since the start of 2022, with 28% struggling to do so. For many, it’s been a case of choosing between sanitary products or groceries, period products or school supplies, and tampons or non-prescription health products, which have all risen dramatically since last year. It’s disappointing, but with the sharp rise in gas, fuel and electricity prices, families have less disposable income and are therefore faced with these gruelling financial decisions. Bloody Good Period (BGP), a charity that provides period products to those in need, distributed 78% more products in the first quarter of 2022 than in 2020. We can only expect this demand to increase as the UK prepares for a threatening recession.
Increasing prices of menstrual care products is evident on supermarket shelves, especially within the past year. According to MoneySavingExpert.com, Tesco has doubled the price of its cheapest sanitary towels, Sainsbury’s Ultra Night Sanitary Towels Wings x20 rose 4.5% from £2.20 to £2.30, and Tampax Regular Tampons 20pk increased 1.6% from £1.87 to £1.90 in Asda. Furthermore, food banks and charities like BGP are dealing with an increase in demand by women and girls who simply cannot deal with the financial burden of period products.
Unfortunately, asylum-seeking women face the additional burden of being a refugee whilst navigating period poverty. Research from BGP and Women for Refugee Women (WRW) uncovered that of the 78 asylum-seeking women interviewed, 75% struggled to obtain period pads or tampons while destitute, forcing them to overuse a period product, improvise period wear or beg for money to buy a pad. One woman pointed out that periods tended to be heavy and irregular, as hostile environments and the government's policy of forced destitution induced extreme stress. Receiving just £37.75 a week in state support, it’s no surprise that asylum-seeking women often rely on illegitimate means during menstruation, such as toilet tissue, clothing, and children's nappies; one testimonial stated that pads were sacrificed when it came to that, nappies for her child, and food.
Thanks to research from charities such as Plan International UK, Bloody Good Period and Girlguiding, it’s evident that those who menstruate in the UK continue to face disparities. Despite the government's pledge to tackle period poverty in 2019 with £250,000, the issue worsens amid the worst cost of living crisis in 40 years. BGP are calling for “action, funding and commitment from the government *now*”, in order to tackle period poverty. Meanwhile, Girlguiding is also calling for government intervention to ensure “that all girls, young women and people who need period products can access them safely and easily at school or college, without fear of embarrassment or shame.”