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Lib Dems to provide free sanitary towels at school to fight 'period poverty'

May 10, 2017 2:25 PM
By Jessica Elgot, Political reporter in The Guardian

Party says proposal would end hidden problem where teenage girls miss school when they cannot afford pads or tampons

Girls would be provided with free sanitary products in schools under a Liberal Democrat initiative that the party has said would end the hidden problem of "period poverty" - where teenagers miss school because they cannot afford pads or tampons.

The party said it would fund the scheme so school nurses could keep a large stock of sanitary products for girls who need them, rather than singling out the teenagers likely to be struggling with the costs and giving out the products to them directly, which campaigners have cautioned could lead to an embarrassing stigma.

The Scottish parliament plans to make it a requirement for schools to provide pads and tampons and a petition was started forthe UK government to do the same. A similar scheme was also introduced last year by New York City council, which last year voted unanimously to provide menstrual hygiene products free of charge in public schools, prisons and homeless shelters.

Lorely BurtThe Lib Dem peer Lorely Burt, the party's spokesperson for equalities, said it was "disgraceful" that students were skipping school for fear of having to admit they were struggling to afford the products.

"Theresa May says she wants a Britain that works for everyone but actions speak louder than words - rather than tackling this problem she prefers to invest millions in her own pet project of grammar schools," Burt said.

"The Liberal Democrats would end period poverty immediately by ensuring schoolgirls had access to basic sanitary products, ensuring they can continue their education uninterrupted and with dignity."

The issue of period poverty made national headlines after a charity in Leeds, Freedom4Girls, was contacted by a school worried about truancy among teenage girls when they had their periods. The charity, which provides products to women in Kenya, agreed to do the same for local girls.

Freedom4Girls has launched a crowdfunding page to raise money for research into the scale of the issue in the UK, calling for a comprehensive, nationwide study on the issue

After the problem was highlighted, the Guardian heard from dozens of teachers who said that they regularly provide pads and tampons for their students.

The issue has also been consistently highlighted by Labour's Paula Sherriff, the shadow minister for women and equalities. Boots has agreed to trial a scheme in Sherriff's Dewsbury constituency, where stores will have a donation point to allow customers to gift sanitary products for distribution to a food bank, as well as contributing as a company. If successful, Boots will consider rolling out the scheme across the country.