Campaigners against period poverty are celebrating a victory today, after the government confirmed that free sanitary products will be available in all secondary schools and colleges as of September this year.
In his Spring Statement, Chancellor Philip Hammond said: “In response to concerns from headteachers that some girls are missing school attendance due to inability to afford sanitary products, I have decided to fund the provision of free sanitary products in secondary schools and colleges in England from the next school year.”
The announcement comes just a few weeks after lobbying from the British Medical Association resulted in the NHS pledging to provide free pads, tampons and liners to all women and girls in the care of the health service.
The Lib Dems have been fighting for free access to sanitary products, claiming that 1 in 4 women have experienced forms of period poverty.
Layla Moran MP said: “Girls are missing out on their education while on their period, or using unsuitable substitutes because they cannot afford to buy basic sanitary protection. It is good to see the Government have finally agreed that this is unacceptable.
“However, this is not a silver bullet and we must continue to demand better for girls and women. It is vital the Conservative Government bring in more ambitious measures if we are to bring about the full eradication of period poverty.”
One of the criticisms levelled at the new measures points out that free sanitary products should also be available in primary schools.
“It would be good to see free sanitary products further extended to year 6, as many girls start their periods before secondary school,” said Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. “Too many girls miss out on vital education each month as a lack of access to sanitary products forces them to miss school.”
A poll of 1,000 females aged 14 to 21 was carried out for the charity Plan International in 2017, finding that one in 10 had been able to afford sanitary protection and that a further 12% had been forced to improvise with tissues or rags.
Last year, Scotland became the first country in the world to offer free tampons and pads to all students, with government committing £5.2 million to fund the initiative.
Director of the Women’s Budget Group, Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, criticised the Chancellor’s announcement on the basis that it addresses the symptom, rather than the cause, saying that poverty itself is the issue.
“The Government should be taking action to tackle … the reason why so many women and girls (who are more likely to be poor than men) cannot afford sanitary products,” she said.