Period product requests at foodbanks are up 600% – what can we do to help?
Remember when Covid hit the headlines and suddenly we faced the possibility that we wouldn't be able to buy toilet roll on our weekly shop?
Panic buying took over the nation and left supermarket shelves empty.
One of our first lessons of the pandemic became the severe inequality in people’s access to essential goods – and made us question how we would cope without them.
What didn't make the news was images of bare shelves where sanitary products were once stocked.
But for many women, girls, and people who menstruate, this wasn’t new news. It has been something they have had to consider every single month.
40% of people have had to use toilet paper because they could not afford period products, but that didn’t make the headlines when people were panic buying loo roll
Prior to the crisis, research from Bloody Good Period, the campaign group, revealed that nearly a third of those who menstruate have been unable to afford sanitary products at some point in their lives and have had to miss school or work as a result.
To make matters worse, on top of the financial pressure it can also have a significant impact on girls’ education, and it’s estimated that more than 137,000 children have missed days from school because of period poverty.
It sounds hard to believe given that the UK is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but sanitary products don’t come cheap and can cost around £7 a month per individual.
And that's just the cost for one person: in a household with more than one person who menstruates, the costs can quickly escalate.
While it might not seem like a great deal of money, it's sadly the case that a growing number of people - particularly younger people - are living in period poverty.
Plan International reported that 40% of women and girls surveyed used toilet paper because they couldn't afford period products.
But that didn’t seem to get many mentions in the media when the shops were out of stock and those that did have some on the shelf were rationing rolls.
And because periods don’t stop in a pandemic, things have only gotten worse for those who struggled with the monthly costs – BGP reported a 600 percent increase in sanitary products from those in need from food banks, community support groups, those fleeing domestic violence, homeless shelters and even NHS frontline workers.
But while the coming months mean that the country will be able to enjoy a life without fewer restrictions, it's not going to be the case for those who can’t afford period products. This is because households are expected to be squeezed further financially when the temporary £20 uplift to Universal Credit ends at the end of September and the government’s furlough scheme grinds to a halt.
So what can we do to help?
Though chocolate biscuits and take-away pizzas were tax free, until this year, tampons were previously taxed as a “luxury item” with VAT at 5%
But what can we do to help reduce Period Poverty?
Spread the word.
Though chocolate biscuits and take-away pizzas were tax free, tampons were previously taxed as a “luxury item” with VAT at 5%.
While the ‘Tampon Tax’ was finally abolished in the UK at the start of this year, Scotland has gone further and is the first country in the world to make sanitary products free to those who need them.
The same law is yet to be introduced in other areas of the UK, despite several organisations and charities calling for this.
Since January 2020 all school pupils in England have been able to access free sanitary products under the government’s period product scheme if they need them.
But most recent figures show that there are still some gaps in access as 76% of secondary schools, 79% of post-16-year-old organisations and 41% of primary schools had ordered products in 2020.
If your local school or college isn't involved, you can reach out to make them aware of the scheme – even if you are not a parent or pupil.
Free Periods, the not-for-profit organisation, offers handy template letters you can download to contact local schools to let them know how to apply for free sanitary products as well as free graphics to download to spread the word.
Only sealed packaging/boxes can be donated and check the expiry date to ensure that the tampons are well within date and not harbouring potentially harmful bacteria
Support your local foodbank
You can donate period products at your local food banks or your local Trussell Trust centre and there are often drop off points within the bigger supermarkets.
Bear in mind that only sealed packaging/boxes are accepted and check the expiry date to ensure that the tampons are well within date and not harbouring potentially harmful bacteria that could lead to irritation or infection.
Alongside this, you can make a conscious effort to donate a spare pad or box of tampons to homeless women you may pass in your daily life.
Set up a donation station
If you would like to support your local area by starting your own donation station at a community centre, supermarket or school for instance, Freedom4Girls can offer support and advice.
Get in touch by emailing [email protected]
Buy your own products from brands that give back
Some brands donate a percentage of their revenue to charities that work to alleviate period poverty or directly provide schools with period products to give to their female students.
Sanitary pad brand Always donates millions of pads to the cause, and all the profits from Hey Girls’ Buy One Give One products go directly to help people in need via schools, food banks and women’s centres.
Reusable period products
In recent years several reusable period products have been launched which can save money and have a big impact on the environment.
Most sanitary pads contain up to 90 per cent of plastic and tampons have 6 per cent, according to Friends of the Earth.
Using reusable pads, pants, or products like the moon cup, are one way to cut down the impact on the planet, although they usually require access to washing facilities and clean water so aren’t suitable for everyone.
3 things to do right now...
If you would like to support a charity that helps reduce period poverty but are strapped for cash, there are still ways you can donate. Cashback website Topcashback.co.uk allows you to donate your earnings to selected charities.
Think about adding an extra box of products to your weekly shop or committing to a regular drop off to a donation station in your local community.
Periods are a hard topic for many people to talk about so engage in open conversation about the subject to end the taboo that surrounds them. This will make seeking support with the costs more manageable for those in need.
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Don’t forget that while you may think that this article is brilliant, it is intended for information purposes only and should not be mistaken for financial advice or recommendations.