“The average cost of a period in the UK, over a year, is £500. Many women can’t afford this.”

Labour MP Danielle Rowley asks Minister for Women Victoria Atkins what the government is doing to address period poverty.

Jun 28, channel 4 News

I have been reading Mrs Gaskell recently, who wrote about factory conditions and ‘fallen women’ in Victorian times. It reminded me of the Tories call for a ‘return to Victorian values’. I am sure that it is not ball gowns and banquets that Cameron, Rees-Mogg and company have in mind for us but the workhouses and the appalling working conditions when unions were banned and wages were not enough to feed a family, which is again becoming the norm for far too many families. The whole family worked and women took tiny babies to sleep on the floor of factories while the mothers worked on looms and noisy machines.

But for all that I was shocked last year when I returned to the UK to see every doorway in the town centre filled with sleeping bags where people tried to keep warm, often cuddling a dog.

We are sadly almost used to there being food banks and more recently the calls for rice and pasta has changed. With more young women than ever living in poverty and/or homeless, the need for sanitary products has become a public issue. When a woman Member of the Scottish Parliament and an English woman Labour MP raise the issue in their respective parliaments then we really see the size of the problem.

I am part of Labour International, an organisation of 3,500 members outside of the UK – some are abroad for work, others are retired. We have put a motion to the Labour Party Women’s conference in Liverpool in September to highlight the issue and to commit the next Labour government to tackle it.

Many individuals donate sanitary products to food banks but we need a national solution. Each woman before she reaches the menopause spends about £500 a year on this necessary item so when you have very little money it begins to look like a luxury rather than the necessity it is.

Many trade unions have discussed the issue – GMB, PCS and Unite – and are taking positive steps. Even the football clubs Celtic and Kilmarnock have free sanitary products at home matches for instance, and Uni West Scotland has free products in their toilets so no women student misses class because of no money for these items

At a time when many women use newspaper or socks to catch the blood flow, this unhygienic practice must stop. Ken Loach showed the issue in his film “ I, Danial Blake” Campaigners including Paula Sheriff, Labour shadow minister for women and equalities are asking Proctor and Gamble, the largest manufacture in the UK, to donate a small proportion of its output to homeless shelters across the UK. Boots is the next target.

Monica Lennon MSP, the Inequalities spokesperson for Scottish Labour, raised the issue last September with the Scottish Parliament. Many are worried that girls are missing school because they are too embarrassed to sit in a classroom with nothing to stop blood running down their legs.

On the Whitehawk housing estate in Brighton, the food bank staff devised a scheme called “monthlies” – most younger women are given a card that is marked each month in exchange for a box of tampons, day and night pads, deodorant, wipes and a bar of chocolate.

But these and many other helpful local initiatives despite being necessary are a sticking plaster when what is needed is a determination to end zero hours contracts, low pay and the lack of cheap homes for rent.

When I was a young woman I loved folk music and was very moved by Julie Covington singing “Only Women Bleed”. It was as much a cry about women’s lives as menstruation. That was 1978, over 4 decades ago, and the problems keep growing and seemingly new ones appear.

Ann Bonner
Labour International

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