England has a lot to learn from Scotland in the fight against period poverty

Posted on: 29 August 2018

For anyone aware of the issues surrounding period poverty in the UK, this announcement that Scotland will offer free period products to students, though much welcomed, won’t come as a massive surprise. Since the beginning of the fight to reduce period poverty, Scotland have been leading the way. With influential supporters like Monica Lennon SMP, who has fought tirelessly on this issue, and a pilot announced in Aberdeen months ago, it hasn’t taken long for the rest of Scotland to recognise that period poverty is real, and it isn’t going away.

The many structural reasons for poverty often particularly effect women and children, ultimately excluding many from society. Without eradicating the current system in which some find themselves unable to afford these basics, Scotland are taking steps to provide such essentials. The provision of period products is, in turn, providing support and dignity to women.

So, why are we so behind in England? Why, in a country that claims to be so progressive, and despite the work of fantastic campaigners such as Gabby Edlin, Laura Coryton and Amika George, is this issue still largely ignored by the government? Why must so many rely on initiatives such as Red Box Project and Hey Girls – whose demand regularly outstrips supply – when our political leaders have a responsibility to do better?

A few months ago, MP for Midlothian in Scotland (coincidence, no?) Danielle Rowley, apologised to the House of Commons for being late in the chamber due to being on her period, adding that the luxury had cost her £25 so far that week. Speaking in the women and equalities debate, she used her platform to call for action on the cost of period products, saying ‘We know the average cost of a period in the UK over a year is £500. Many women can’t afford this’. It seems unfortunately however that the statement fell on deaf ears, at least on this side of the border.

Plan UK have already told us that 1 in 10 girls cannot afford basic sanitary products, however previous statements by the Government conclude that this is not enough evidence. Perhaps 1 in 10 isn’t a high enough number on paper. Perhaps 9 in 10 girls being able to have a chance to reach their full potential is a victory – it certainly seems that way. But what about those 1 in 10 in England that we’re ignoring?

Menstrual stigma is in large part what makes period poverty such a difficult issue to overcome: it’s hard enough to acknowledge being on your period at all, let alone discuss being forced to use rags in the place of pads. This has meant that the scale of the problem can be difficult to grasp, and in England, we seem to have become complacent – out of sight, out of mind.

We already know that the Government have promised a reversal of the tampon tax when we leave the EU in the next few years, but their leadership on this issue is consistently found lacking. For girls who are waking up today, tomorrow, and next week with no idea of how they are going to manage this normal and natural bodily process, this wait isn’t good enough. Whilst Scotland are making tangible progress, below the border we’re stuck wondering what evidence it will take for us to follow suit, and who we can trust to take on the fight.

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