“Period poverty” in the UK: blood, hyperbole and tears


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It’s not difficult to be overwhelmed by some of the awful problems the UK is facing at the moment, is it?  Let’s think: …..Brexit….child abuse investigations….social media effects on mental health….increasing attacks on the traditional family and ‘old fashioned’ values….cultural manipulation in our schools….insufficient funding for the police….rocketing knife crime….drugs….need I go on?

Well, you will be delighted to know that we now have another social crisis on our hands – period poverty.

Yes, you read that right.  Period poverty.  That’s the ‘reality’ apparently facing ‘1 in 10 girls’ in the UK  who ‘struggle to access safe menstrual products’ because they can’t afford it.  The first obvious question here has to be – ‘Are there any unsafe menstrual products?’  The second question must be ‘What?!’ The third must be ‘Where are they shopping?’

Apparently ‘The economic, social and environmental impacts of period poverty are huge, with many of those affected missing out on education and job opportunities simply due to their periods’. In developing countries, I can see that this is a problem.  But are we seriously supposed to believe that there is an equivalent situation here in the UK?

Does any British reader know a girl, young woman or other period-age woman who is so poor in today’s UK that she cannot afford £1 for a packet of sanitary protection? Heck, you can even get 20 tampons from Morrisons for 95p – at a cost of 4.8p each. And what about 14 ultra pads, also from Morrisons, for the huge sum of 65p?

Granted, most of us have periods that require more than one pack of whatever sort of protection we choose, but we’re not talking about re-mortgaging every month are we? If you need four packs of 14 ultra pads from Morrisons every month, that comes to £2.60.  If you have to get five packs, that’s £3.25.  How much do you spend on phone top-ups, take-out coffee, chocolate and soft drinks?

When girls and women are being faced with a range of massive cultural assaults on their long-fought-for rights in public spaces, at home and at work, why on earth are some charities making hay out of claiming that girls are missing school because they can’t afford pads or tampons?  Are there not more significant issues to protest about?

Let’s think about this for a moment.  Readers will have gathered by now that I have a bee in my bonnet about ‘research’ carried out by activists of any sort.  The charity Plan International announced in late 2017 that they had commissioned research that found that:

  • One in ten girls (10 per cent) have been unable to afford sanitary wear
  • One in seven girls (15 per cent) have struggled to afford sanitary wear
  • One in seven girls (14 per cent) have had to ask to borrow sanitary wear from a friend due to affordability issues
  • More than one in ten girls (12 per cent) has had to improvise sanitary wear due to affordability issues
  • One in five (19%) of girls have changed to a less suitable sanitary product due to cost
  • 49 per cent of girls have missed an entire day of school because of their period, of which 59 per cent have made up a lie or an alternate excuse. [None of which means that the day missed was due to period poverty – more likely due to period pain, which can be awful and has always been a cause of missed school days].

The findings are based on Opinium Research survey of representative weighted sample of 1,000 girls and young women aged 14-21, carried out online between 22-24 August 2017′.

Hmm.  I can’t find any details about what  the sampling frame was (the group from with they recruited the participants). But as one of my old professors used to say – if it doesn’t make any sense to you, then question it. (He actually said, ‘If it looks like b—–s then it probably is’, but I am trying to be polite).

So – while the survey found that 1 in 10 girls and young women between 14 and 21 (that’s 10% of the sample) had ‘been unable to afford sanitary wear‘, how does this pan out when we think about mapping it onto the actual female population of that age group?  Because that is what the activists at Plan International and the mushrooming period poverty industry want us to think.

According to the ONS, there were 2,943,038 girls and women between the ages of 14 and 21 living in the UK in mid-2017 when this survey was carried out.

So what is 10% of that figure?  Well, it’s 294,303.8.  Let’s ignore that .8 and call it a round figure of 294,303 girls and women in that age group.

Let’s break that down a bit more – what about the girls among these who were at school between 14 and 18?  That’s a figure of 1,765,923.  Ten per cent of that figure is 176,592.3.  Again, let’s ignore the .3.

This leaves 1,177,115 young women who are largely either working, or at university or college between the ages of 18 and 21.  Ten per cent of this is 117,711.5.

Now think about the survey findings.  Are we seriously supposed to believe that over 175,000 schoolgirls are unable to afford pads or tampons every month?  That is a figure approaching the population of the city of Swansea.

And what about those 18-21 year olds who are studying or in work?  If you are studying, you can do part time work.  This is almost 120,000 young women.  That’s around the population of Blackburn.

Obviously, there will be some girls and young women in the UK who are genuinely struggling due to their families living on benefits, for example.  Others will suffer because the parents choose to spend money on drink, cigarettes, drugs or whatever.  Other young women may be living rough on the streets.  Some may be living in families with cultural issues around menstruation and they are too embarrassed to ask for help when they need it. By all means, let’s do something to help these women.  Nobody could object to that. However, are we saying that these challenges are behind the problems caused to 1 in 10 girls and young women in the UK?

Apparently 90% of UK teenagers have mobile phones.  These cost money – and are an economic choice, not a human right. A head teacher in Birkenhead, Merseyside last year took the step of banning pupils from wearing Canada Goose, Moncler and Pyrenex coats to school.  Some of these can cost well over £1000 each.  Just how many of these coats are appearing at school? Presumably enough to cause problems.  In Merseyside – that super-rich area of England.  It used to be £100+ trainers that got their wearers to the top of the social heap in school; now it’s £1000+ coats. According to government statistics, eight areas in Birkenhead were classed as being in the 1% most deprived parts of England in 2015. As our US friends say, ‘go figure’.

‘Ah, but this is not just a poor working class problem!  Middle class girls are also suffering!’

According to a report on the BBC news website this month, ‘Samantha’ from Aberystwyth – now at university – said:

“My family aren’t poor but we aren’t rich either. My brother went University first and my parents were determined to pay for his accommodation and other stuff so that he didn’t have to get a loan. Growing up we have a never had to go without food or anything but that meant that I couldn’t afford pads sometimes.  I had a really bad experience once where I leaked on a train because I was using tissue instead of a pad. I was mortified and now every time I’m on my period I’m so scared that I’m going to leak again.”

Er, right. How is this ‘period poverty’?  How about ‘parental neglect’?  If the parents can afford to help their son avoid a student loan and pay for him themselves, they can also choose to pay for pads for their daughter. And as for ‘leakage events’ – find me a woman who doesn’t have at least one horror story about public embarrassment or narrowly-avoided embarrassment.  This has happened to all of us!  Are we to now claim this as a mental health issue for the rest of our lives? Grow up, Samantha!

In the same article, Chisomo Phiri, National Union of Students Cymru’s women’s officer, said:

“That any woman or girl in Wales in 2019 has to face the indignity of not being able to afford proper sanitary products should bring shame on us all. We need a strategic and sustained investment by the Welsh Government and local authorities, year on year, to make the disgrace of period poverty a thing of the past.”

And there it is.  The government should pay for our tampons and pads! 

Sure enough, the Welsh Government’s deputy chief whip Jane Hutt said it was “unacceptable” for people to lack access to products:

“Last year, we committed over £1m to help address period poverty in our communities and improve school toilet facilities to ensure dignity for young people. Local authorities will receive £440,000 up until 2020 to tackle period poverty by providing products to people who may otherwise struggle to afford them.”

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced yesterday that from the next school year, the government will provide free sanitary products in secondary schools and colleges in England. Does the government not have more urgent things to spend millions of pounds on?  Do schools and colleges not have enough to do without now becoming seen as a source of free pads and tampons?  Because that  is what will happen.  Give out a product for free and you will create a market.  That’s how businesses have been launching products for centuries.  Why buy your own when you can go and get freebies at school or college?

In my school years, the school always had a stash of emergency pads for those of us who got caught short or who had leak problems. That’s normal and a good example of social care for girls in school.  But that’s a long way from providing free pads and tampons as a requirement. We’ve all stuffed our knickers with socks/tissues/hankies/paper towels and the likes at times of emergency.  It’s a part of growing  up that can’t always be avoided. But if you have a mobile phone, buy designer clothes, shoes, bags or similar, get a regular spray tan or buy coffee regularly at Costa, then don’t tell me you suffer from period poverty.

If you can’t afford 65p on a pack of pads in Morrisons, then I assume that you can’t afford food either. Sorry, but there it is. Over-exaggerated claims such as those being made around this subject recently in the media are simply likely to turn people away from the compassion that is due to those who really need it.

By all means, let’s help those who really experience problems with their periodsI don’t doubt for a moment that girls and women in developing countries have some major issues around period management. Let’s help them.  As I said above, there are no doubt some disadvantaged women and girls who genuinely need help in the UK due to their circumstances.  But young women in this situation are not necessarily suffering from ‘period poverty’ – rather, their situation is complex and period management is simply one of many serious problems – often at the lower end of the scale of their needs.  That is not to diminish the need for help with menstruation issues, but for many of these girls, their principle need is not free pads or tampons but a stable and good-enough home, a lot of support, health care and so on.

I’m thinking of setting up a section on the blog for spurious – or at least, highly inventive – claims to victimhood made by charities about life in the UK today.  It’s strange, isn’t it, that even though life is so awful here for women, millions of women from other countries all around the world aspire to come here?



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