Period poverty: Funding for free products extended

Over 3 million sanitary products were purchased by colleges and universities in the first 6 months of the scheme

Julia Belgutay

Period poverty: funding for free sanitary products to continue in Scotland

Funding for free sanitary products in colleges will continue for a second year, the Scottish Funding Council has announced.

The SFC said a total of £2.1 million will be made available by the Scottish government for the financial year 2019-20 – of which £900,000 will be for colleges, with the rest going to universities.

The funding for free sanitary products, first introduced in August 2018, followed the SNP's commitment in its 2017 programme for government. A student survey conducted by Young Scot in 2017-18 showed that over a quarter of students had struggled to access sanitary products in the previous year, and 24 per cent of young people not in education had also experienced difficulties in accessing products.

Background: Free sanitary products for students in Scotland

Quick read: Free sanitary products ‘misused’ by pupils

Read more: Free sanitary products in schools and colleges may become a requirement

'A huge challenge'

A spokesperson for the Scottish Funding Council said: “Period poverty can be a huge challenge to someone’s ability to carry on with their studies at college or university and a real barrier to academic achievement. We are delighted that funding for this important initiative is being continued. We are beginning to learn more and our understanding of actual need and uptake is becoming more robust.”

In a recent submission to the Scottish Parliament’s local government and communities committee, Emma Roberts from the SFC said initial assessment of provision within colleges and universities indicated that the scheme had been effective, with feedback from institutions and students “positive and confirming that the scheme is making a real difference”.

“Data collected after six months of provision showed that 3,175,078 sanitary products had been purchased by colleges and universities for distribution between 1 September 2018 and February 2019 (approximately an average of 19 products per student).”

Most institutions, the SFC submission explained, had implemented a model combining products made freely available in toilets and larger “holiday packs” that could be collected at pick-up points.

With the scheme in its first year, uptake had been “lower than expected”, the submission said, but “annual monitoring of the scheme has evidenced that uptake of free sanitary products is increasing as the scheme becomes more embedded and more promotional and educational activities take place”.

The submission added: “There has also been a noticeable increase in demand for reusable and sustainable products due to increased awareness and education. I would therefore advocate that any scheme introduced through the Bill has a focus on education, as feedback from the sector has shown this to be a key element of successful delivery and adequate uptake of products. Data has been collected about the full first year of provision in colleges and universities – including uptake, costs and effectiveness of delivery models – and is currently being assessed and analysed."

The SFC’s funding, announced today, is based on female student numbers – excluding school pupils – of 250,967 and an assumed average uptake of sanitary products of 35 per cent of those student numbers. It also assumes a “per-head price” of £40, which comprises £35 for sanitary product costs and £5 for administration and delivery costs.

Sorcha Kirker, women’s representative for NUS Scotland students’ union,  said: "We welcome today’s announcement to continue to fund free sanitary products for Scotland’s students. No student should be put in the position of not being able to attend education just because they can’t afford basic sanitary products. By helping to remove a financial barrier that previously was overlooked by many, this funding will hugely benefit students across Scotland.”

Today, the Parliament's committee will hear evidence on the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, which, according to Monica Lennon, the Labour MSP who introduced it, could see Scotland become a "world leader" in this area. It would include a statutory requirement for schools, colleges and universities to provide free sanitary products.

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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