Stop Poverty – Period

Thursday 4 January 2018

CAROLEYou may have read recently about period poverty – the inability of girls to afford sanitary products.

You may have read too about campaigns to address period poverty which entail free products being distributed in schools or given out to those attending foodbanks.

As the Chief Executive of Young Women’s Trust you would think that I would be delighted that something is being done about this situation that faces so many young women in the UK and leaves so many feeling humiliated and degraded. The current campaigns are important but I wish there wasn’t the need for them in the first place, especially in one of the most developed countries on the planet.

Making sure we prevent this situation happening in future means not just addressing the immediate crisis but tackling the underlying issues, too. 

Women are not period poor and perfectly fine in every other aspect of their lives.  Women and girls who are period poor are going without meals, struggling to put food on the plates of their children and paying more than 50% of their income on rent. They are often in insecure and low-paid work and as a result they are very anxious and pessimistic about the future.

Girls still at school and unable to afford sanitary products rely on their parents for money and it is probably their mothers to whom they are more likely to turn to help them with sanitary products.  If we don’t want girls at school to be period poor we need to make sure their mothers are not impoverished.

Period poverty is a symptom of a wider epidemic. The epidemic is PEPLO: persistent and enduring poverty and lack of opportunity. Estimates suggest that there are more than a million young women under 30 in this situation now. This epidemic exists amongst young men too but has different symptoms and a different prognosis; Young men are more likely to find a way out of poverty, less likely to be stuck in low-paid and insecure work and are less likely to be financially penalised at work for having children. If PEPLO were an illness, there would be preventative programme put in place and we would not just be treating the symptoms. 

Distributing sanitary products is a crucial, but (hopefully!) short-term, fix. What we need most is a commitment to a real and guaranteed Living Wage, genuinely affordable housing and childcare and higher rates of pay for the work that women tend to do. We also need to support young women to gain skills and find quality work, no matter their background – something we do at Young Women’s Trust through our Work It Out service. In the longer-term, these measures will go further to create equality between men and women – and hopefully mean that we don’t need campaigns against period poverty in the future!