I wish to update the House on the activity that is taking place to end period poverty and ensure that every woman and girl in our society can access the menstrual products they need.
This is a complex issue and its causes are not restricted to poverty. Charities and businesses are leading impressive initiatives around the country to change old-fashioned, uninformed attitudes to menstruation and break down taboos. Many organisations and businesses are exhibiting a will to act to tackle this issue by promoting awareness and making products available to their staff and visitors. We have been consulting with these organisations and are also writing to all Members of this House to ask for their help in identifying good practice and further partners around the UK.
On 4 March this year I announced that the Government would establish a new joint taskforce on period poverty in the UK. This initiative recognises the importance of tackling period poverty for the dignity and empowerment of women and girls. Up to £250,000 has been committed in seed funding to support the work.
The taskforce will launch in June and will bring together a range of different organisations working on period poverty from across the public, private and third sectors. Details on the remit and membership of the taskforce will be announced in due course. Its objective will be to join up learning and ideas and develop a comprehensive, sustainable response. By linking different sectors, it will build on the range of diverse initiatives that already exist, promoting those which are delivering impact, and helping them to grow and become sustainable.
We need much better evidence and understanding of how period poverty affects different groups in our society. Therefore, improving the data in this area will be an issue the taskforce will tackle as a priority. Addressing stigma will be another main area of focus, given the shame and taboo that still exists around periods. The taskforce will consider the role of education, communications and role models in shifting social attitudes. The Government’s new relationships, sex and health education, published earlier this year, will ensure every pupil learns about leading healthy lives, including menstrual wellbeing, as part of a well-rounded education on mental and physical health.
By bringing together different parts of Government, the taskforce will promote a coherent, sustainable approach. In the spring statement of 13 March 2019, the Government announced that they will support a new scheme to provide free sanitary products in secondary schools and further education colleges. On 16 April, it was further announced that free period products will be offered to girls in all primary schools in England from early next year.
Extending the programme to all primary schools follows feedback from teachers, students and parents. The Department for Education is now working with key stakeholders in the public and private sector to roll out the programme in a cost-effective manner that supports girls and young women across the country.
In March 2019 the NHS in England announced that it will offer free period products to every hospital patient who needs them and today the Home Office has announced that it is set to change the law to ensure that all menstruating women, and others with personal health and hygiene needs, are treated with dignity whilst in custody. Police forces will provide menstrual products to female detainees if required, free of charge. The intended changes will be brought into effect when the revised Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) codes of practice have been laid in Parliament.
In recognition of the global nature of the issue, the Department for International Development is leading a new global campaign of action to end period poverty by 2030. Across low and middle-income countries it is estimated that over half of all women and girls are forced to use homemade products, rags, grass or paper to manage their periods. In many countries there is a lack of information and appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. I announced on International Women’s Day that this campaign will kick-start with an allocation of up to £2 million for small and medium charities working on period poverty in DFID priority countries. We are building on existing UK aid programmes that are enabling women and girls around the world to access sanitary products, facilities and knowledge about their periods, including through the Girls’ Education Challenge, Amplify Change and DFID’s water and sanitation, reproductive health and research programmes.
I would like to pay tribute to all those working so tirelessly to tackle period poverty and shame both in the UK and around the world. We look forward to helping their good work scale and reach every woman and girl in need.