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A third of UK women and girls are in period poverty amid the cost of living crisis

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Lauren Geall
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Amy Beecham
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Period poverty: 1 in 4 UK women and girls are struggling to afford period products amid the cost-of-living crisis

The number of people unable to buy sanitary products is rising as the cost of living gets higher.

A new report commissioned by Girlguiding has revealed that almost a third of girls and young women in the UK cannot access free period products at their school or college, despite government schemes being in place for several years now.

Over 32% said they could not access free menstrual products at their school or college because they were unavailable, with one in 10 saying they or their families could not afford to buy them.

Indeed, not only do people have less money to spend on essentials due to rising electricity and gas bills, but the price of period products themselves has also been rising due to record inflation and supply chain issues, according to research by The Grocer.

That’s despite the end of the so-called tampon tax – the 5% rate of VAT previously imposed on sanitary products.

Earlier this year, in a survey to mark Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May, charity WaterAid found one in five people who bleed resort to coping by using makeshift materials, such as loo roll or sponges, and one in four admitted to wearing period products for longer than they should, risking their health.

The period products scheme was introduced in England in 2020 following campaigns by Girlguiding and other organisations, and provides free period products for 16-19-year-olds who need them to access education. However, Girlguiding says that the scheme isn’t working and more needs to be done to improve access to essential hygiene products.

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Period poverty has long been a problem in the UK. Throughout the pandemic, over a million girls aged 14-21 struggled to access period products, with many forced to cut back on other essential items like food, hygiene products like soap or toothpaste and clothing in order to purchase sanitary items.

However, the worsening cost of living crisis has led campaigners to call out government inaction and demand more is done to support people who menstruate. 

22% of British women and girls have relied on free period products from work, school, a food bank or other charity in the past year, while 30% have had to choose cheaper brands to cut costs.

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“Apparently, the government regards period poverty as a serious issue. Yet, when asked what they’re doing next to tackle the worsening situation, the next steps are said to be announced ‘in due course’,” charity Bloody Good Period wrote on Twitter.

“Meanwhile, demand for period products is rising sharply as the cost of living crisis bites. We want to know what is being done right bloody now – not in ‘due course’. This week, in the lead up to #MenstrualHealthDay, we’ll be asking the UK government to recommit to ending period poverty – just like they did three bloody years ago.”

The charity – which works to provide period products for those who can’t afford to buy them – has seen a 78% increase in demand for its services during the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2020, rising from 7,452 period products to 13,284.

The shocking figures serve as a stark reminder of the widespread impact the crisis is having on people who bleed across the country. 

Sanitary towels against a pink background
Period poverty: the cost-of-living crisis is exacerbating the problem across the UK

“The government committed to tackling period poverty in 2019, yet despite the issue being so much worse now due to the combined impact of the pandemic plus the current crisis, there is no meaningful commitment nor funding to provide essential period products for people who can’t afford them,” Emma Defoe, operations and activism manager at Bloody Good Period, told The Guardian. “Instead, small charities like Bloody Good Period fill the gap.” 

The surge in demand comes in the aftermath of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, which also contributed to worsening rates of period poverty across the UK.

At the time, Bloody Good Period’s CEO Rachel Grocott told Stylist about the mental health impact that period poverty can have on those affected. 

“No one should have to worry about the products they need to deal with their period, and many of the people we’ve helped have reported increased stress as a result of being without period products,” she said. “These are essential items for anyone who menstruates, and we will carry on providing them to everyone who needs them.” 

To find out more about the work of Bloody Good Period and donate to the cause, you can visit the website.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

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Amy Beecham