6 Jan 2021

Tampon Tax - A Minor Victory!

A small piece of good news amidst the chaos.

First of all - happy new year everyone. I hope 2021 brings us everything 2020 didn't.

I’ve been meaning to write this blog for a while now, well over a year actually, and thought it’d make a change to talk about something other than Covid or Christmas, and to bring a little beacon of light amidst the somewhat cloudy news we’ve had to start 2021!

I’d not been at SmartMove long when one Thursday morning, whilst the Support Workers were all having their weekly meeting, the front door went so I answered it. There was a young girl standing there, with a man much older than her. The man is known to us and is very dangerous. They asked if they could come in and I asked if they were here to see anyone. She simply said “I’ve come on my period and I don’t have any knickers on”.

I went into our storage room and found her a pair of clean knickers, sanitary towels, wipes and tampons and a fresh pair of jeans to put on. She said the knickers were far too big, but they were the only ones I could find to give her. She went upstairs to the toilet to change.

If I had to guess at her age, I’d say 14-15. I asked her how old she was and she said 18, but I could tell she was lying. She gave me her first name but wouldn’t tell me her last. I haven’t seen her since. I managed to get to her on her way back down the stairs out of earshot of the man and say we could help her if she needed it. I think about her often.

Fast forward to the day of the 2019 Sleepout. Months of preparation and hard work. The event itself is around a 24-hour shift. I woke up on the morning of the event and my period had arrived. I felt SO sorry for myself! Then I remembered why we were doing it and cracked on, but it definitely added a new dimension to the Sleepout for me. I’d never really given much thought before as to what homeless women would do when they have their period, because you just don’t really do you? You just get on with your own and take everything for granted.

What I really wanted to do that day was just curl up in my pyjamas, cuddle a hot water bottle, have a bubble bath, eat ice cream and watch trash on TV. But I couldn’t. I had an event to go and put on and then I had to sleep outside on the floor. But only for one night. The next day I could come home. I could have the bath. I could put the pyjamas on and eat the ice cream and have a little cry at some soppy film (or, probably more accurately, Come Dine With Me).

But what about those who don’t have a home? Or what about those who do have a home but can’t afford the things they need? Also, I had access to nice, clean toilets at the Piece Hall throughout the event; where would somebody who didn’t have a home go to change their sanitary items?

A single woman under 25 in the UK on Universal Credit gets £342.00 a month personal allowance. This needs to cover their phone, gas, electric, water, council tax, transport, food and everything else aside from housing costs. Rent is paid on top of this and that’s just £85.50 per week.

There are some rather questionable statistics surrounding how much the average period costs – but we can safely assume it costs between £8.00 and £12.00 per month for sanitary products, plus a further £4.00 to £10.00 for pain relief. Add the pizza, chocolate and ice cream on and you’re talking close to £40.00 a month. It might not sound like a lot, but when you only have £342.00 to last the month, £40.00 means everything. This is only an expense for those who menstruate – through no fault of their own!  

My first thought when the first Lockdown happened was for the children and young people who go to school to feel safe and loved. Then there are those whose only warm meal comes from school. What about young girls who get their sanitary supplies from school? And there are a lot of them. What do they do during lockdown?

Being a young girl and coming to terms with having your period is hard enough as it is. But when you consider that mums, dads and carers at home might already be struggling, having to ask for something extra is embarrassing on a different level. Research from a charity called Bloody Good Period tells us that one in ten girls has, at some point, been unable to afford sanitary products. One in seven has had to borrow them from a friend because they couldn’t afford their own (a few more statistics here, it's not pleasant reading and shows there's still a hell of a lot more to be done in this area).

We at SmartMove receive lots of sanitary products donated to distribute to our clients and we always include sanitary products in our food and hygiene parcels for those who need them. The donations we receive are SO important. 

We also work alongside schools, most of whom provide a ‘red box’ for young women to be able to access and help themselves to as and when they need it. I don’t know what young girls will do with schools being closed again now, but I do know what wonderful people our teachers are – they won’t let a vulnerable young person go without.

Now for the little bit of good news. The small ray of light in the murky mist! Brexit. You either really wanted it, really didn’t want it, or were entirely unsure about what it meant. Differences in opinion aside, it’s brought us the brilliant news that the so called ‘Tampon Tax’, which has been in place in the UK since 2001, has finally been abolished (insert round of applause).

Brexit means that the UK is no longer subject to European rules on sanitary product taxes. The move will lead to an average saving of 7p on a box of 20 tampons, and 5p on a pack of 12 pads. This will save the average woman around £40.00 - £50.00 in her lifetime. This also followed news in November of Scotland becoming the first country in the world to make sanitary products free for all. Let us hope the rest follow suit.

Again, it might seem like a small victory for the estimated 33.75 million women in the UK, but it’s a victory nonetheless and I think you’ll agree we’ll take what we can get at the moment.

Thank you for reading and stay safe. 

Beth 

 

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