Free sanitary products made available in all schools in England

Sarah Young
istock

The government’s free sanitary product scheme is launching across all schools and colleges in England this week in a bid to combat period poverty.

The move will ensure that pupils do not miss out on lessons due to their period and help break down stigma surrounding menstruation, according to the Department for Education (DfE).

Under the funded scheme, schools and colleges will be able to order a range of sanitary products, including eco-friendly options, so that they are available when young women need them.

Last year, former Chancellor Philip Hammond first announced plans to fund free sanitary products in England’s secondary schools. This was later extended to also include primary schools.

Campaigners had been calling for the government to take action due to concerns that some girls, particularly those from lower-income families, were missing classes during their periods as they were unable to afford sanitary products.

Michelle Donelan, children and families minister, said: “Periods are a normal part of everyday life and we do not want young people missing out on lessons because of them.

“We know that it is not easy for everyone to access period products where and when they need them.

“This scheme will deal with those problems so young people can go about their daily lives without getting caught out if they have come on their period unexpectedly, forgotten to bring products with them or if they can’t afford the products they need.”

In 2017, research carried out by Plan International UK – a charity that campaigns for children’s rights and equality for girls – into the extent of period poverty in the UK, found that one in 10 young women aged 14-21 have been unable to afford sanitary wear, while 12 per cent had to improvise protection due to affordability issues.

Amika George, founder of the FreePeriods campaign group, said: “As a grassroots, student-led movement, Free Periods has been fighting for every single child in this country to be able to go to school without worrying about their next pad or tampon.

“For the first time in history, this scheme will ensure that becomes a reality.”

She added: “We ask that schools have open conversations with students about what they need and start signing up to the scheme – no child must miss out. Free products in schools will ensure that every child can learn and be their very best, without periods holding them back.”

​In response to the new scheme, Rose Caldwell, chief executive of Plan International UK, said it is “thrilled to see the government take this hugely positive step towards ending period poverty”.

“We know that some girls miss school because they don’t have period products, and that they have had to use items like toilet roll and socks because they can’t afford anything else. So having access to a range of period products at school will make a very real difference to many girls’ lives,” Caldwell said.

“But it’s vital that the rollout of products is managed in a way that makes them easily accessible for girls. Our research has found that only a third (31 per cent) of girls feel comfortable asking teachers for period products, and only half of teachers (52 per cent) think their school adequately supports students in managing their periods.”

Both the Scottish and Welsh governments have also announced schemes to make free period products available in schools, and in Scotland, in universities as well.

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