We need to end period poverty and poverty full stop
Politics works best when it reflects changes in how people feel and communicate, and period dignity is a cause whose time has come.
If briefings given to the media over the weekend are correct, the Chancellor Phillip Hammond is set to recognise that girls going without essentials such as sanitary products while they are at school is morally unacceptable.
The action expected in this week’s Spring Statement may be limited to secondary schools, but it will be a step towards correcting an injustice which causes great anxiety to girls at a time in their life which is stressful enough.
But it’s not right for any woman or girl have to go without tampons or pads, wherever they happen to be when they have their period.
The progress that has been made by making this a visible and public campaign is a testament to the determination of campaigners, from those who have experienced being unable to afford what they need, to unions, feminist campaigners and politicians who have pushed for changes in attitudes and legislation.
Unite the union’s Period Dignity campaign is leading the way in showing this is something that needs to be addressed.
It is not hard to feel sympathy for a teenage girl feeling too ashamed to go to school during her period because she can’t afford sanitary products, but this is also an issue around family finance and the number of families who have been swept into poverty in recent years.
Period poverty is real and it is right to highlight it – but we also need to be careful about treating all the symptoms of poverty as separate policy issues with individual solutions.
We hear about food poverty, fuel poverty, period poverty and even bed poverty – all are desperately serious. But ultimately they can only be tackled if we fix the root cause – poverty itself.
As well as addressing this injustice, it is also vital that action is taken now on the root causes of poverty, especially as it affects women and girls.
On Wednesday, the Chancellor must use the opportunity he has to end the benefits freeze, which is the single biggest factor sweeping many families into poverty.
Social security should be providing an anchor for people in difficult times but almost all families with children are affected by the freeze on benefits and tax credits – 27 million people are affected overall.
If continued, the freeze would leave hard pressed families £560 a year worse off – the equivalent of three months food shopping for a low-income family.
Women remain more likely to be in poverty than men. The lack of good quality part-time work, the cost of childcare and the discrimination that underpins this injustice still need to be solved.
An IFS report to mark 100 years of women’s suffrage found that the hourly wage gap between men and women is about 10% before having children.
After the first child is born there is a gradual increase in the gap between men and women.
By the time their first child is 20, women’s hourly wages are about a third lower than men’s. In work or out, women can be locked into poverty and it will take real concerted action to help them to break free.
Wednesday’s Spring Statement is the Chancellor’s opportunity to show that despite the challenging political context, the Government is serious about tackling burning injustices in the UK.
Signalling an end to period poverty for women and girls should just be the start.
Claire Ainsley is the Executive Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
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