Calls grow for free sanitary products in schools and colleges

Teaching union says ‘period poverty’ is particularly acute during Christmas season

Henry Hepburn

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A teaching union is highlighting the pressure that the high cost of sanitary products adds at Christmas, when many family budgets are pushed to their limit.

The intervention comes in the week that a demonstration was held outside Westminster as part of a protest against "period poverty", involving well-known figures including model Daisy Lowe and former government spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

The EIS, Scotland’s biggest union for teachers and lecturers, is backing a member’s bill in the Scottish Parliament that would lead to free access to sanitary products in schools, colleges and universities.

A consultation on the bill, proposed by Labour MSP Monica Lennon, comes after a range of initiatives to tackle period poverty in Scottish schools and colleges.

South Lanarkshire College, for example, introduced a scheme to provide free sanitary products to students – a move that, when announced earlier this year, led Ms Lennon to say that Scotland could “lead the world in eradicating period poverty”.  

North Lanarkshire Council, meanwhile, intends to provide free products in schools.

EIS president Nicola Fisher said: “In a climate of austerity, with one-in-five children in Scotland living in poverty, the cost of essential sanitary products is yet another expense that low-income families struggle to meet.

"This is particularly apparent at this time of year, as the festive season is a particularly challenging time financially for many families.”

She added: “Legislation to address period poverty, coupled with the necessary investment, could drive progress forward with many benefits, including enhancing our young people’s health and wellbeing, and their dignity.”

Becky Hipkiss, education manager at betty for schools, a personal, social and health education programme that has been working in Scotland this year, said it was crucial to create “a generation of young people who are completely at ease talking about periods”.

The EIS has created good-practice guidelines on distributing sanitary products in educational settings, which will be issued in January to union representatives across Scotland and made available to download.

In England, Labour has called for the government to put aside funding to tackle period poverty to ensure girls do not miss school because of menstruation. But education secretary Justine Greening suggested earlier this year that schools could provide sanitary products out of their existing funding if they chose to.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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