The spiralling cost of living is leaving many people unable to afford essential hygiene products, making them feel too ashamed to leave the house and see people, according to research by the charity Hygiene Bank.
A report carried out by the organisation suggests as many as 3.2 million adults in the UK are affected by hygiene poverty, struggling to afford even the most basic essentials including toothpaste, shower gel, deodorant and sanitary products.
A quarter of participants said they had gone without toilet paper, soap or shower gel, while three in ten women did not buy period products. Over one tenth (12%) of workers surveyed admitted to avoiding facing colleagues because of the overwhelming shame.
Data from the Office for National Statistics shows the price of shampoo has increased by 8% in the last year alone, while shower gel is up by 11%.
The report also found that those experiencing hygiene poverty were most likely to go without laundry detergent and household cleaning items. Three in five (62%) of those experiencing hygiene poverty said they have to choose between buying products for themselves or their children.
The data in the report comes from surveys carried out between October 2021 and February 2022, before the recent surge in the cost of living. This suggests hygiene poverty is likely to be even worse now.
Hygiene Bank chief executive, Ruth Brock, describes the problem as a “hidden crisis”.
“It's much more widespread than we feared, it's increasing, and it's disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable,” Brock said. “I think it just doesn't occur to people in the same way that fuel and food poverty do. But the truth is by the time you're not switching on your heating or you're going to a food bank for food essentials, you've stopped buying essential hygiene products weeks before.”
Hygiene Bank has worked with a single mum-of-two named Elaine, who began diluting products to make them last longer and tying up her hair in a certain way to hide the fact she often had not washed it for weeks at a time.
Elaine has bouts of acne from being unable to wash her face and feels she has to keep a safe distance from people out of fear that she smells.
As Brock continues to explain, it’s heartbreaking to think people are now becoming ashamed to leave the house and socialise, even with people who they love and trust.
“We have mums telling us about being ashamed to leave the house and not seeing anyone for weeks on end. And mums telling us that they want to be last at the nursery drop off. Because they're too embarrassed and ashamed to see other parents.”
“Hygiene is important enough,” says Brock. “But the follow-on effects of making that change for people also mean that they can then start to access their life chances.”
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