This Briefing Paper provides a definition of period poverty, its causes and impact. It suggests how it can be measured, together with the challenges that exist in attempting to tackle it. A summary of period poverty in Jersey is included, as well as a brief comparison with other jurisdictions.
Period poverty is a term used to describe the inability to access products such as pads and tampons due to financial constraints. It can also be used in broader terms to encompass the effects of the stigma of menstruation and the quality and provision of menstrual health education, as well as the lack of availability of washing facilities and waste management. The term ‘period poverty’ started gaining widespread use in 2016 and it has become a more high-profile issue as a result of the work of campaign groups, charities, and academics over the last 5 years. Further awareness of the issue has been raised since November 2020, when Scotland became the first country in the world to pass legislation to make period products available for free in public buildings to anyone who needed them.
There are various consequences of period poverty. Not being able to access period products can mean:
If period poverty is defined only in terms of the inability to afford to buy period products, then period poverty can be attributed to poverty generally. However, several sources state that affordability is not the only barrier. A Plan International UK report refers to tackling the ‘toxic trio’ that causes period poverty:
Access to income is also an important factor; for example, a young person who does not have an income of their own may be embarrassed to ask an adult for money for period products, or an abusive partner could deliberately withhold money. The latter reason was highlighted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (E.H.R.C.) during the consultation process that led to the introduction of free period products in Scotland:
Measuring period poverty
There have been very few studies to date that have attempted to assess the extent of period poverty. Plan International UK’s research on period poverty and associated stigma is a frequently cited piece of work on the topic. Their research findings are based on a representative sample of 1,000 girls and young women aged 14-21 who took part in an online survey in August 2017. Key statistics highlighted by the survey include:
- One in ten girls (10%) have been unable to afford sanitary wear
- One in seven girls (15%) have struggled to afford sanitary wear
- More than one in ten girls (12%) have had to improvise sanitary wear due to affordability issues
- Almost three quarters (71%) of girls admitted that they have felt embarrassed buying sanitary products
- 49% of girls have missed an entire day of school because of their period, of which 59% have made up a lie or an alternate excuse
A more recent piece of research published in the United States in January 2021 pointed to a similar level of period poverty experienced among women aged 18-24. The general findings were that, of the women surveyed, 14.2% had experienced period poverty over the previous year and 10% experienced it every month.
Part of measuring period poverty should take into account the cost of menstruating. There are several factors that influence the cost of managing periods. Any attempts to calculate an “average” figure will result in a price that is far too low for some, and relatively high for others. Reasons for this include variables such as:
- the length of the menstrual cycle
- the typical number of days of bleeding
- the personal choice of period product (assuming that choice is an affordable option)
- where relevant, the size or absorbency of the product
- the presence of any conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome, fibroids, or endometriosis, which can significantly affect the amount of bleeding and therefore increase the quantity of period products required
In addition to this, it may be necessary to factor in extra underwear or other clothing required in cases of leakage, or when caught out; and some individuals might routinely need painkillers or other medication to alleviate period pain.
The average lifetime cost of having periods therefore varies from person to person and caution should be used where ‘average cost’ figures are quoted; for example, in 2018 Labour MP Danielle Rowley stated that the average cost of a period in the UK over a year was £500. This figure was calculated from a 2015 survey in which 2,134 women aged 18-45 were asked what they spend each month on different items related to their period:
Pads/tampons/panty-liners/menstrual cups - £13
New underwear (due to leakage) - £8
Pain relief - £4.50
Chocolate/sweets/crisps - £8.50
Other (magazines/toiletries/DVDs etc.) - £7
This list of products includes items that are beyond what some would deem necessary or essential and therefore provides an indication of how the ‘average’ monthly cost of menstruation may increase where an individual can afford to spend more on items that help them during their period. The charity Bloody Good Period estimates an average lifetime spend of £4,800, which is calculated based on £4 on tampons, £4 on pads, plus £2 on panty liners per month, multiplied by 40 years of menstruating. Irrespective of any assumptions made when calculating an average figure, and the sizeable differences in those figures, it is important to focus on the fact that there is evidence that some individuals cannot afford to spend money on period products.
Challenges to tackling period poverty
There are several barriers to overcoming period poverty, and the main three of these are outlined below:
- Lack of education: a YouGov survey conducted in February 2019 highlighted that of a sample of 2,010 British adults, 1 in 7 women did not know what happens during their period, and that 1 in 3 men did not know what happens during a period. A Plan International UK survey from July 2017 found that 1 in 4 girls and young women across the UK felt unprepared for the start of their period and 1 in 7 did not know what was happening. Plan International suggested that “schools need comprehensive menstrual hygiene management education and training to help tackle the stigma and embarrassment around menstruation”, and that lessons explaining periods should be inclusive because “boys want to learn more about menstruation and girls want them to as well”.
- Stigma and shame: Stigma and shame are consequences of a lack of menstrual health education, as well as longstanding viewpoints formed by cultures and religions that, for example, frame periods as ‘dirty’ or ‘unclean’. This is illustrated by a 2016 survey of over 1,000 British women, where nearly half of 18-24 year olds whose ability to work had been affected by period pain gave a different reason to their employer for their poor performance at work. If people are embarrassed to talk about periods the associated problems will not be raised or analysed, and therefore continue to be poorly understood and addressed.
- Assumptions: Where there is a lack of data or understanding of the issue a logical consequence may be to fill that gap with assumptions. Where this approach is deemed necessary, it should be recognised that assumptions can be improved by consulting with relevant stakeholders, for example the NASA engineers who assumed astronaut Sally Ride would need 100 tampons in her flight kit for a one-week flight and subsequently halved that figure after actually speaking to her to check her personal requirements.
Period poverty in Jersey
The key overarching fact about period poverty in Jersey is that there is currently insufficient local data to assess whether it exists or to measure the extent to which it affects Islanders. This absence of data means that any debate can only currently be informed by anecdotal evidence, assumptions or opinions of how things are locally, or by looking to neighbouring or similar jurisdictions for an indication of the likely situation. Jersey is not alone in this regard. In January 2021 an article in the Economist acknowledged that “a dearth of data makes it difficult to grasp the scale of the problem in the West. Nevertheless, research shows that poor menstrual hygiene is not limited to poor countries.”
Period poverty is already being talked about in Jersey and in recent years there has been some discussion of the issue in the States Assembly and in Scrutiny. An e-petition started in November 2020 was well-supported by the public which put the issue to the fore in local media, but it did not gain sufficient traction to instigate the free provision of period products.
One of the priorities for improving social inclusion within the Government Plan 2020-2024 was to publish information and analysis of the Island’s current levels of relative low income (i.e. poverty) and to develop a Poverty Strategy for inclusion in the 2022 Government Plan. This work may provide a helpful starting point to begin to assess the existence and extent of period poverty in Jersey.
Legislation relating to period products
There is one reference to the provision of period products in Jersey legislation. Prisoners in Jersey are provided with period products under the Prison (Jersey) Rules 2007 – Rule 19(3):
“The toiletries provided shall include shaving materials, if requested by the prisoner and, in the case of female prisoners, sanitary protection.”
There is no equivalent provision in the Education (Jersey) Law 1999 to ensure school pupils are provided with such access to period products. As noted below, school pupils currently benefit from access to free products provided by the Red Box Project.
Period Poverty as a topic in States Meetings, Scrutiny Hearings, and Petitions
The cost of period products has seen limited consideration in States Meetings or in Scrutiny, with the first instance occurring during Oral Questions in early 2020. There has been one e-petition on the matter, and during the 2021 Youth Assembly, there was an Oral Question to the Minister for Social Security, as well as the debate of a proposition to make period products freely available, which the Youth Assembly decided to adopt.
In February 2020 Deputy Rob Ward asked a question of the Minister for Education regarding the provision of period products in the Island’s schools and colleges (OQ.38/2020). The answer to this question noted that period products were available at no charge to school pupils and that this was not due to government funding but the work of local initiative the Red Box Project Jersey, which is a not-for-profit community-based group that aims to support young people throughout their periods by providing boxes filled with free period products to local schools. As of June 2020, the Red Box Project stated that it was supporting 28 schools in the Island (primary and secondary), 2 youth clubs and other settings “where support has been requested”. Jersey’s Red Box Project sets out three goals:
- To have a ‘red box’ in every school, college and place of education and youth club for young people in Island, provided by the Government of Jersey, without means testing;
- To have tax removed from period products;
- For the Government of Jersey to make period products free on Island, regardless of age, educational setting, etc.
At present the Red Box Project operates using donations from individuals and companies. A recent Facebook post acknowledged the support of a local supermarket’s donation of £1,500 worth of period products that enabled the continuation of the project in the Island’s schools.
Affordability of period products was queried in a January 2021 Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel quarterly hearing, prompted by the abolition of the ‘tampon tax’ by the governments of the UK and the Isle of Man, leaving Jersey as the only place in the British Isles that charges tax on such products. During the hearing the Minister for Treasury and Resources stated that the Jersey G.S.T. (goods and services tax) was lower than the equivalent in many of its neighbouring jurisdictions and that there were no plans to create exemptions to G.S.T. for specific goods in the interests of keeping the taxation scheme simple to administer.
An e-petition titled “Follow Scotland and make period products free for all” was started on the States Assembly website on 26th November 2020. In less than one week the petition had gathered the necessary 1,000 signatures required to trigger a response from the Government. In this case the Minister for Social Security responded on 21st December 2020. Part of that response stated “we need to know more if we are to properly understand the issue and meet needs”, and went on to confirm that the Minister had asked officers to undertake further research with a view to reporting findings to the States Assembly within the term of this Government. The petition closed on 26th May 2021, having gathered 2,231 signatures.
The most substantial reflection on the subject to date came during a Youth Assembly debate held on 30th March 2021, where one individual asked the Minister for Social Security whether period products would be made free, and the response was very similar to the one provided to the e-petition noted above. In addition to the question to the Minister, the school pupils debated a proposition to make period products freely available, with those in favour of the proposition making their case by arguing that period products are essential and cannot be considered luxury items when menstruation does not happen by choice. Those arguing against questioned how Government could accommodate the cost of providing period products freely to people who need them, pointing out that there are several categories of basic necessities such as food and water which are not free. The debate concluded with the Youth Assembly voting to adopt the proposition.
How different jurisdictions have responded to period poverty
There is a range of responses to period poverty across different jurisdictions. Many have not acknowledged or started to investigate the issue, some have conducted research and analysis to gain an understanding of the extent to which period poverty is experienced by its citizens, others are taking (or have taken) steps to reduce, change, or eliminate the tax on period products.
In terms of taxation on period products, actions taken may involve removing it altogether, reducing it or changing the way in which period products are categorised for taxation (for example, many jurisdictions class period products as ‘luxury’ items for tax purposes), some jurisdictions have implemented free period products in educational settings, though the availability may not necessarily be widespread in all educational institutions and buildings, and the period products may not be readily accessible to all who need them without having to ask. Some jurisdictions benefit from the work of charities, food banks, and not-for-profit groups in the free provision of period products to individuals who need them.
Table: Cross-jurisdictional provision of free period products and taxation levels
|Ireland||0%||||||||Bill in second stage|
|Isle of Man||0%||||X|||||
Introduction of free period products in Scotland
A Policy Memorandum published to accompany the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill set out the key milestones that led to the introduction of free period products:
- Scottish Government statistics show that relative poverty levels have increased since 2008.
- Use of food banks has risen significantly, and there is evidence from the Trussell Trust that period products are among the essential items needed by those who use food banks.
- Campaigns aiming to end period poverty in Scotland increased public awareness of the issue.
- September 2017 – February 2018: The Scottish Government ran a six-month regional trial providing free period products to women on low incomes in Aberdeen.
- May 2018: Following the evaluation of this trial, the pilot was extended across the rest of the country. The extended trial was operated by the charity FareShare backed by £500,000 of funding from the Scottish Government.
- August 2018: Scottish Government starts to provide free period products in schools, colleges and universities.
- January 2019: £4 million of funding provided by the Government to local authorities to extend provision of free period products to local communities.
- April 2019: The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill is introduced by Monica Lennon MSP.
- February 2020-November: The Bill is subject to parliamentary consideration.
- January 2021: The Bill is passed by a unanimous vote and becomes an Act on 12 January 2021.