Period poverty funding must go to all schools, campaigners say

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

Campaigners have welcomed plans to provide free sanitary products for girls in secondary schools – although have called for the scheme to be extended to colleges and primaries as well.

One in seven girls struggle to afford sanitary wear and one in 10 are unable to pay for these essential products, according to 2017 research from charity Plan International UK.

In the Spring Statement last week, chancellor Philip Hammond said the Treasury would fund “a national scheme in England to provide free sanitary products to girls in secondary schools”.

The scheme will be developed by the Department for Education (DfE), which is to publish details “in due course” with implementation planned for September.

Mr Hammond said: “In response to rising concern by 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 #freeperiods campaign, which was launched by student Amika George two years ago, estimates that more than 137,700 children in the UK have missed school because of period poverty.

It highlights that menstrual products cost women £13 a month and 40 per cent of UK girls say they have used toilet roll because they cannot afford period products.

The Plan UK research, meanwhile, which involved 1,000 young women aged 14 to 21, found that half have missed an entire day of school because of their period, of which six in 10 lied or made up an excuse to cover their absence.

Furthermore, 64 per cent have missed PE or sports lessons because of their period, with half again making up an excuse.

As such, there has been a broad welcome for the plans from campaigners and education unions. However, there is also strong support to extend the scheme to primary schools given that children can start menstruating as young as 8 or 9.

Among those making the call is Anna Miles, founder of the Red Box Project – a not-for-profit scheme that provides red boxes to schools with free period products and which is also part of the #freeperiods campaign.

Ms Miles explained: “We know from our work in thousands of schools across the UK that the need for free menstrual products exists for all children in full-time compulsory education, including those in primary school. We hope to see further commitment from the government in meeting the needs of all children who menstruate, regardless of their age. Every child should have an equal opportunity to participate in their education – this is their fundamental human right.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said it is “vital” that the scheme is extended to cover all primary schools as well as colleges.

She added: “The fact that so many families cannot afford sanitary products for their children is in itself a reflection of the shameful indictment on the government’s policies, which have hit the poorest hardest, and especially children and young people.”

The National Association of Head Teachers said that the scheme should be extended to year 6. General secretary Paul Whiteman added: “Even those pupils who do not suffer period poverty will benefit from free access to sanitary products, ensuring no child is without protection during what can be a very stressful and vulnerable time.”

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