In March and April, as the UK lurched into lockdown, the media was flooded with images of people panic buying. The stress of living through a pandemic was exacerbated by the possibility that it would be difficult to get everyday essentials – from loo roll to fresh food.
Sadly, for many young people that fear was a reality that persisted throughout lockdown, when they couldn’t get hold of the period products they needed. A new study by Plan International UK reveals that almost a third of young women in the UK struggled to obtain period supplies during lockdown – either because they couldn’t access them, or they couldn’t afford them. The research shows that over half of these girls used toilet paper as an alternative – with one in five telling Plan that during lockdown they found their periods harder to cope with because of the toilet roll shortages.
Period poverty is real. Even before the additional pressures brought about by the pandemic, it was blighting the lives - and impacting the education - of young people in the UK. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Eradicating period poverty is within our grasp
Following a successful campaign by Free Periods, the Red Box Project and many other activists, all state-maintained primary schools, secondary schools and colleges in England have been able to order free period products for their students under a government-funded scheme.
Now, ten months into the scheme, we’re thrilled to see that 40% of all eligible institutions have signed up. But there is more work to do to make sure that the remaining 60% take action. The scheme is ‘opt-in’ which means that if schools do not proactively sign up before the end of the year, they could miss out on the resources that have been allocated to them, leaving millions of pounds of funding unspent.
We know schools and colleges have faced extraordinary upheaval this year. They have had to manage taking the curriculum online, providing support and care to students and distributing free school meals during the pandemic. Happily, ensuring that none of their students suffer because they are unable to access period products is straightforward in comparison. It’s a simple thing they can do that will make a significant difference to their students’ health and wellbeing. All it takes to get started is one phone call to supplier phs on 01827 255 500.
I want to help, what can I do?
We’re calling on everyone to do their bit. Whether your school days are long behind you, whether financial pressure or feelings of social stigma have ever been a part of your life, you can now choose to make a difference and make sure that no young person misses a single day of their education because of a lack of access to period supplies.
We’ve created a tool kit of resources to make it easy. In the first instance, use our template letter to contact your local school or college to make them aware of the scheme.
Secondly, think about your network – do you know teachers, parents, governors, PTA reps or careers advisors? Reach out far and wide and spread the word: ask them to alert the schools they’re connected with about the scheme.
Thirdly, use our social media graphics to light up your feeds with news of what’s at stake.
We have to act now
We’re in a recession that’s already the deepest since records began. Household finances for many families up and down the country are precarious, and they are set to worsen. In these circumstances, period poverty will only increase – getting a safety net in place now is vital.
So much progress has already been made and we can’t let the pandemic set us back. We know that despite the lockdown, schools and colleges are still managing to sign up to the scheme, access free products, and make them available to the young people who need them.
So now it’s over to you. Contact your local school office, tell a teacher, talk to a student, share on social. This is a #PeriodRevolution and every one of us can be a revolutionary.
Gemma Abbott is director of Free Periods and coordinator of the Red Box Project.
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