School pupils and college students will get free sanitary products in response to concerns that girls are missing out on education because of period poverty.
The chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, announced in the Spring Statement that college students and school pupils in England will receive free sanitary products from September.
Mr Hammond said that this is “in response to rising concerns from some headteachers that some girls are missing school due to the inability to afford sanitary products”. “I have decided to fund the provision of free sanitary products in secondary schools and colleges in England from the next school year," he added.
More views: 'It's time to end the stigma of period poverty'
Mr Hammond congratulated "those honourable members who have campaigned on this issue on all sides of the House" and said that education secretary Damian Hinds would announce more details about the plan “in due course”. The plans were hinted at on Sunday, but the chancellor today confirmed the scheme will be open to both schools and colleges.
Last year the Scottish government announced a £5.2 million funding programme to allow schools, colleges and universities to provide free sanitary products for students and pupils.
Last March the Department for Education said it would ask headteachers, pupils and parents about period poverty as part of its regular "omnibus" series of surveys aimed at determining the attitudes of school leaders, pupils and parents on a range of issues.
Government 'has listened'
In October, the Newcastle College branch of the University and College Union (UCU) asked staff to donate sanitary products in a bid to alleviate “period poverty”.
Acting general secretary at the UCU Paul Cottrell said: "No student should have to stay away from college because they can’t afford sanitary products. UCU is pleased that the government has listened to the concerns of students and staff, and committed to providing sanitary products in schools and colleges, so that women can attend their classes in dignity and comfort."
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said: “It is very welcome news that free sanitary products will be available in schools and colleges from the next academic year. Too many girls miss out on vital education each month as a lack of access to sanitary products forces them to miss school. Even those pupils who do not suffer period poverty will benefit from free access to sanitary products, ensuring no child is without protection during what can be a very stressful and vulnerable time.
“It would, however, be good to see free sanitary products further extended to year 6, as many girls start their periods before secondary school. The government deserves a lot of credit for recognising this issue and for solving it as quickly as possible.”
'No one should experience such indignity'
Sarah Lasoye, NUS students' union women’s officer in England said: "It’s a fantastic win for us that the chancellor has announced free menstrual products will be given to secondary school and college students from September. No one should have to experience the indignity of having to go without vital products they simply cannot afford.
"We strive to achieve the same result in higher education, and would like to see the availability of products and menstrual education provided from primary school onwards, so that young people who have periods are equipped with the knowledge and confidence to properly manage them. In future, we hope to see this initiative extend to settings where young people are most at risk, such as homeless shelters and youth centres. For now, NUS have published their #FreePeriods toolkit, helping students’ unions provide vital menstrual healthcare for their students.”
A survey conducted last year by development charity Plan International found that one in 10 young women aged 14 to 21 had been unable to afford sanitary products. Twelve per cent of those surveyed said they have had to improvise sanitary wear and one in five had changed to a less suitable sanitary product due to cost.