Skip to main content

Period Poverty

Volume 643: debated on Thursday 28 June 2018

No girl or woman should be held back because of her gender or background. In March, this Government announced that Brook Young People would receive a grant of £1.5 million for its project in the UK “Let’s Talk. Period”. The project will support young women and girls by educating them on how to manage their menstruation and providing free sanitary products, if required.

Is it not outrageous that in 2018 period poverty exists at all? Is it not an indictment of this Government’s policies of austerity that schools such as South Hetton Primary School in my constituency are having to improvise and provide pant packs to ensure that students from low-income families never have to miss a school day for want of proper sanitary products?

It was always a mystery to me why the Labour Government did not seize the opportunity to reduce the VAT rate on sanitary products to 5%, as the coalition Government did. The VAT charged on women’s sanitary products is the lowest possible amount that can be charged in order to comply with EU law. Some retailers have decided to pay the 5% VAT for their customers and have reduced prices accordingly. This is a matter for business, but the Government are committed to applying a zero rate of VAT on sanitary products by the earliest date possible when we leave the EU.

It is very good of the hon. Lady to drop in on us; I am sure she has a very busy schedule. As I am burbling on at her, she will be able to recover her breath, and we very much look forward to hearing her.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I would like to announce to you and to the House—perhaps you will excuse my lateness—that today I am on my period, and this week it has already cost me £25. We know that the average cost of periods in the UK over a year is £500, which many women cannot afford. What is the Minister doing to address period poverty?

As I say, we have invested £1.5 million in the Brook Young People “Let’s Talk. Period” project, supporting young women and girls on managing their menstruation and providing free products, if appropriate. The Government are committed to removing the VAT rate on sanitary products when we leave the EU. That will help with the cost of sanitary products.

What discussions has the Minister had with ministerial colleagues at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about bids to address period poverty through the tampon tax fund?

The Government set up the tampon tax fund from the 5% VAT that is charged on sanitary products. The fund serves many charities, but it is particularly helping the Brook Young People project, which I welcome.

Will the Minister confirm that we can reduce VAT to zero only because we are leaving the European Union? Can she quantify in millions of pounds how much that step will save women in Britain?

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Wings Cymru, which supports every junior, primary and secondary school in my constituency, and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), in supplying sanitary products to all girls across the county borough? Will the Minister also welcome the fact that the Welsh Government have provided direct investment in order to give free sanitary products, after campaigning groups such as Wings Cymru have been lobbying? Is it not time that the UK Government stepped in to deliver more funding for free sanitary products?

That is an interesting project and I am interested to hear about it. On the impact of periods on girls attending school, the Department for Education has conducted an analysis of absence statistics to see whether there is any evidence of period poverty having an impact on school attendance. There is currently no significant evidence, but we very much keep it under review, which is why there will be questions about it in the Department’s 2018 surveys for pupils and senior school leaders. We will of course review the project in Wales and, in fairness, the project in Scotland as well.

The Welsh and Scottish Governments recognise that period poverty is a serious issue and have both introduced schemes to tackle it, so why are the UK Government failing to provide support to tackle this growing problem and leaving it to charities and individual groups such as Beauty Banks, a cosmetics equivalent of food banks organised by Jo Jones and Sali Hughes, to fill the gap?

As I said, we are watching with interest the Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver access to free sanitary products in schools and other educational institutions, along with the Welsh commitment. We will look at and review the outcomes of those studies and projects.