At the recent spring budget, one of the few measures announced by the chancellor was the provision of tampons and pads in secondary schools in England. It’s designed to help address the problem of period poverty. But what is period poverty, and what else is being done?
Period poverty in schools – what has been announced?
Philip Hammond announced in his spring budget in March 2019 that the Department for Education will take the lead to develop a national scheme in England to provide free period products to girls in secondary schools and colleges. The scheme is designed to take effect from September 2019.
Over the last few years, there’s been increasing concern that some girls are missing school because they can’t afford to buy tampons and pads.
SAVVY TIP: In August 2018, the Scottish government made period products available free to all pupils and students at schools, colleges and universities.
Research from the humanitarian organisation Plan International found that one in ten girls are unable to afford tampons or pads and 49 per cent of girls have missed an entire day of school because of their period.
So, Philip Hammond’s announcement is a positive step. However, it’s not a legal commitment and some campaigners don’t believe it goes far enough.
What are the campaigners saying?
There are a number of charities and organisations that are campaigning on the issue of period poverty. Bloody Good Period, is one of them. It supplies food banks and asylum seeker drop-in centres across London and Leeds with menstrual products. Gaby Edlin, its founder, welcomes Philip Hammond’s announcement, but warns:
“We must demand that period care, along with education, is enshrined into policy so that girls, women and people who menstruate and who are living in poverty, or with less access to supplies, are not forced to rely on the whims of the current government.”
Free Periods is another campaign group aiming to eradicate period poverty. In 2017, its founder, Amika George started a petition calling for the government to fund free menstrual products in schools. And in January this year, she launched a legal campaign with the Red Box Project (a community-based, not-for-profit initiative, which provides red boxes filled with free period products to local schools) and The Pink Protest (a community of activists committed to engaging in action and supporting each other), saying period poverty was denying some girls their right to an education.
The tampon tax – VAT on tampons and pads
Currently, women still pay VAT at five per cent on tampons and pads. Although Tesco covers the cost of the tax on its own brand products.
The government has pledged to remove this so-called “tampon tax” when the UK leaves the European Union. And the EU itself plans to introduce new VAT rules, which would mean tampons and pads could be zero rated. However, there’s no timetable for this to be introduced.
Since the 2015 autumn statement, the government said it would introduce a tampon tax fund – which basically meant an equivalent amount of money as was raised from VAT on tampons and pads would be paid to women’s charities. So far £47 million has been paid to a range of charities.
Making period products available
Period poverty is one issue, but the availability of tampons and pads is another. Currently, the situation is that:
- Many hospitals in England already provide patients who ask for them free tampons and other menstrual products. But, from this summer, all NHS hospitals in England will be mandated to offer them.
- Last year, Police in England and Wales were criticised by the Independent Custody Visiting Association as “routinely ignoring” the needs of women detainees on their periods. The Home Office has proposed new guidelines for police forces to ask women who are in custody if they are likely to need tampons or pads and to let them know they can get them free of charge. The proposed guidelines also say that women who’ve been detained can ask to speak to a female staff member.
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