What Does Period Poverty Look Like in the UK?

Period poverty is a term many of us have heard before – even our own Cup Effect Volunteer, Katrina, has written a great blog about what exactly period poverty is. But let’s stop and think about the word poverty for a minute. It tends to conjure all sorts of images and emotions about people in low-income countries who lack access to food, water or other resources needed to lead a fulfilling life. 

These images of abject poverty are real and need solutions but they also draw attention from the fact that poverty exists right here in the UK. When poverty is associated with income, it becomes difficult to relate it with the UK as it is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. However, nearly a fifth of people living in working households in the UK live in relative poverty (measured as a household income lower than 60 percent of median income). Coupled with the fact that menstruation is still entrenched in stigma and taboo, period poverty is a reality for many, but is a problem that remains out of sight. 

What does period poverty look like in the UK?

We don’t immediately link poverty to women and girls being unable to afford period products when the household is already struggling to make ends meet. But these are the realities for more than a quarter of women and girls in the UK who were forced to miss school or work last year because they couldn’t afford period products. These issues receive little attention in local media and that’s why we need to keep talking about period poverty.

Here are some more ‘not-so-fun’ facts about period poverty in the UK courtesy of Free Periods:

  • Over 137,700 children in the UK have missed school because of period poverty;
  • 68% said they felt less able to pay attention in class at school or college while menstruating;
  • 40% of girls in the UK have used toilet roll because they couldn’t afford menstrual products;
  • Out of 1,000 girls surveyed, nearly half were embarrassed by their period and many were afraid to ask for help because of the stigma.

There is some positive news on the horizon. The UK government will offer access to free sanitary products in all primary and secondary schools as well as colleges from early next year. That’s a huge step in the right direction to prevent girls from missing school due to their period. But there are plenty more initiatives that you can take part in to help eradicate period poverty.

How To Take Action

Support us at the Cup Effect. Buy one, give two – for every cup that is bought through us, two are donated to women who cannot afford them, both in the UK and those living in low-income countries. You can also support us through a donation. We have started trialling sessions in schools to talk about periods, introducing students to menstrual cups and helping them realise there are different types of period products available.

Perhaps you prefer to use pads or tampons, and that is totally okay! Have you checked out Hey Girls? It’s a great organisation dedicated to fighting period poverty in the UK with their ‘Buy One, Give One’ initiative. 

For every pack you buy, Hey Girls will donate one pack to women and girls in need of period products. Don’t worry, their products are 100% plastic free, sustainably sourced and biodegradable.They also have Bloody Big Brunch events where you can drink Bloody Mary’s for the price of a packet of period products. Why not take inspiration from this and host your own brunch where everyone brings a packet of period products and donate them to your local homeless shelter?

Keep the conversation going! It’s time to move on from this whole “period taboo” business. Have frank discussions about periods with your friends, peers, colleagues. Menstruation is a normal and regular event in most women’s lives that should not be associated with shame, anxiety and isolation. 

Keeping the subject on the table may help other women feel more comfortable to come forward for help, get access to information or to simply explore their options in how they manage their periods. Menstruation is a sign of good health and that should be celebrated, not ignored.

Marijke Tolsma is a Cup Effect Volunteer who has lived around the world with her trusty menstrual cup always at the ready in her suitcase. She is a feminist who is interested in reproductive health rights for women and girls in a development context. In her spare time, she enjoys cycling through the streets of London in search of the best coffee.

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