Breaking The Taboo On Period Poverty
Period poverty continues to rapidly rise amidst the current cost of living crisis in the UK affecting one in five women, a recent survey by ActionAid reveals.
Period poverty -where someone who menstruates is unable to afford sanitary products such as tampons, period pads, panty-liners and menstrual cups- has seen to almost double in the UK, from 12% in 2022 to 21% in 2023, according to a survey by ActionAid.
ActionAid, a charity dedicated to removing poverty, warns of a continuing spike in the cost of period products as a result of inflation having hit a 41-year high of 6.7% in September 2022. The survey revealed that households in the UK were struggling to afford these necessities, instead putting the money towards being able to pay for their gas, electricity and food bills.
Tasha Burgess, Senior Women’s Rights Campaigns Specialist at ActionAid UK explained: “Our latest poll suggests a worrying trend. As the global cost-of-living crisis bites, period poverty continues to affect women, girls, and people who menstruate all over the world, which is leading to dangerous methods of period management.
The ability to manage your period safely and comfortably is essential for anyone who menstruates. This includes access to period products and hygienic spaces in which to use them. It’s not a request , it’s a demand. The health of millions of women depends on it.”
As a result of not being able to afford or have sufficient access to period products, the 41% of those polled by ActionAid admitted to keeping sanitary pads or tampons in for longer, while 8% re-used disposable pads. This is a huge risk to their health, exposing them to urinary tract infections, severe abdominal pain and bacterial tract infections such as toxic shock syndrome.
What causes period poverty?
The average woman will spend an estimated £20,000 on periods in her lifetime, as the cost of menstruation isn’t cheap. But where is this money going?
The Office for National Statistics released figures showing that the Consumer’s Price Index (CPIH) for feminine hygiene products and the average cost of a tampon has risen in the past five years, and in the past year alone there has been a 10% inflation on a box of tampons in UK supermarkets.
The reason behind this? The cost of cotton- a primary substance in the manufacturing of period products. The World Bank stated that the cotton prices were 40% higher in 2022 than they were in 2021, causing one of the biggest commodity shocks since the 1970s. With poor weather conditions in America and continued Covid-19 lock-downs in China, the supply chain of cotton has produced limited yields, increasing the price of the cotton.
What this has meant for the cost of tampons has resulted in an estimated average 27% increase on a 20 pack own brand box of tampons in leading supermarkets like Tescos, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons, a data firm Assosia has found.
A recent poll by ActionAid has also revealed that the current cost-of-living crisis in UK has meant that those experience period poverty has had to prioritise other essentials over products, with 60% saying that they prioritised food over hygiene products, and 48% on gas or electricity while 24% said that they went without the products themselves to support their dependents instead.
Who is affected by this?
Over 500 million people experience period poverty across the globe according to the World Bank, as 2.8 million people are estimated to currently be experiencing period poverty in the UK, ActionAid has reported.
It is the 18-24 year old age group that was found to be the most affected by the inflated costs of period products, at 27% of those polled stating that they were unable to afford the right products. It has been estimated that in 2022 137,000 university students missed several days of education due to inaccessibility to period products. ActionAid also found that 6% of parents who took part in the poll admitted to stealing these products in order to access and provide for their dependents, as they were unable to afford to pay for these products themselves.
What is being done?
So- is all hope lost? Not quite.
The Department of Education has granted free access to menstrual products within institutions of education, following the abolition of the ‘tampon tax’ in January 2021, where period products were considered to be a ‘luxury’ item. The period product scheme was introduced on a temporary basis in 2020, running until July 2022. Grassroot organisations including the Girl Guides have lobbied for the renewal of this scheme, extending it to July 2024. This allows for schools to stock period products and hand them to students in need.
Yet this scheme is only available for those aged 16-19, and does not include: ‘students on higher qualifications, apprentices, staff members, supply staff members, volunteers and contractors,’ leaving a majority of those who suffer from period poverty without.
Still, organisations like Period Poverty UK are offering all they can to help eradicate period poverty within the UK.
Founder of the charity, Dr Zareem Roohi Ahmed has introduced Red Label Day in March 2022, to help raise £50,000 to supply over 12,000 period products to women in need in the UK.
Period Poverty UK said that “many women on low incomes, even those in professional roles are struggling to afford sanitary pads. The role of food banks [where these products are being donated to] have never been so necessary within our communities.”
Dr Roohi Amed and Period Poverty UK’s campaign aims to make period products available for those who menstruate in all public spaces across the UK, and eradicate all period poverty in the UK by 2025. They have so far donated 350,000 pads to food banks across the UK so far.
Yet, even with these efforts, the UK still faces a national health emergency, and asks the question- when will periods be taken seriously?
For more information about Period Poverty UK, click here.
For more information on ActionAid, click here.
If your are struggling with period poverty, you can access free sanitary products in the Union through Brookes University.