Period Poverty: The Unequal Flow

By Alice Sleightholme, first year Geography student

Whilst products such as frozen yogurt and herbal tea are VAT free in the UK, basic sanitary products, like sanitary towels and tampons, are still facing VAT on our high streets. How can basic hygiene products, that are essential for women and trans men, be classified as ‘luxury’ items?

The result is that, on average annually, you can expect to spend around £130 on period essentials, not including panty liners, hygiene products, disposable bags and so forth. Tragically, as a consequence of this, many women and families cannot afford enough sanitary products; even without the tax, many still would not be able to afford them.

1 in 10 young women aged 14-21 have been unable to afford period products

To some of us, sanitary products have always been readily available, but what about where this isn’t the case? The latest research carried out by Plan International UK has found that 1 in 10 young women aged 14-21 have been unable to afford period products, and consequently, many girls are forced to miss school. As a direct result of this, research carried out by Always found that those who experience period poverty are ten times more likely to experience mental health issues, like low self-confidence, anxiety and depression. Period poverty and its unequal flow is a very real issue for girls and women all over the UK.

Whilst the issue remains a major problem for girls in education, we cannot ignore the statistics on homeless women. Due to the fact that items such as sanitary towels remain unavailable to such women, many resort to alternatives such as socks, toilet paper and in some cases, pieces of cardboard. Given rising statistics of homelessness and a direct increase in the number of women and families living in shelters, the problem appears on course to increase.

teenagers and young adults are increasingly entering period poverty

In addition, whilst period poverty impacts those of all ages and backgrounds, teenagers and young adults are increasingly entering period poverty due to the financial demands of higher education, especially university.The last thing students should have to worry about is whether or not they can afford to buy sanitary products. The reality is no one of any age should have to live in fear of bleeding through because they cannot afford the right products. No one should have to put themselves in danger by using unsuitable or unhygienic replacements. No one should have to suffer because of something natural and essential. No one should be forced to miss a day of education because of their period. No one should be ashamed of their period.

It’s time that action is taken in the UK to end period poverty and this begins by ensuring that sanitary products are freely and readily available to those who need them.

So, what can you do?

You have a voice that deserves to be heard and used. I’m not saying you must join #TheHomelessPeriod rally outside Downing Street right this instant – start with small things. There are plenty of ways to help tackle Period Poverty, from petitions waiting to be signed, to charities and organisations that are specifically set out to tackle this issue (check out Red Box Newcastle, The Period Poverty Project UK and NEflow). You will always find homeless shelters, food banks and even soup kitchens that are in constant need of sanitary products, so if you ever find yourself with spare, please consider donating them!

However, if you ever find yourself in need of sanitary items, you can get in touch with NEflow, who can give you the items you may need, and there are some products you can use in and around some of John’s bathrooms! Remember, small acts can make such a difference!

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