Scotland could well be about to lead the way in an area of women’s rights. If the move happens, it will put the Westminster, Conservative-led government to shame. But the deal is not a done one just yet.
Period poverty is when girls and women can’t afford sanitary products. As the website Global Women Connected noted, it’s a major issue across the UK. This is because:
- “1 in 10 girls aged 14 to 21 can’t afford menstrual products”.
- “Half of all schoolgirls miss a full day of school because of their period”.
- “The average UK woman will spend more than £18,000 on periods over her lifetime”.
In England, the Tory government recently rolled out a scheme for free sanitary products in schools. The Department for Education (DfE) will fund it. But as The Canary previously reported, many people gave the new deal a lukewarm response. This is because schools have to opt in. Also, it doesn’t address the period poverty women above state-education age face.
Scotland’s parliament, however, is doing things differently.
‘Free condoms? Why not free sanitary towels?’
The Scottish government already gives some funding to councils. This is to provide free sanitary products in some schools and public buildings. Scottish parliament buildings also offer the same service. But one Labour MSP thinks the Holyrood government isn’t going far enough. Monica Lennon has tabled the Period Products (Free Provision) bill in Holyrood. It calls for universal free sanitary products across the country.
As Lennon wrote for the Big Issue:
Several health boards provide access to free condoms via a card that can be used in health centres and elsewhere. If the NHS can offer a menu of free condoms, I don’t see why sanitary protection needs can’t be supported in a similar way.
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Previously, the SNP-led government did not support the bill. But on Wednesday 19 February, it seemed to change course.
Scotland: breaking ground?
A set of immediate actions to further increase the availability of period products has been confirmed, as Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell announced support for the general principles of the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill.
Regulations will be brought forward to place a duty on local authorities to provide products in schools from the next academic year and the Scottish Government will work with clinicians to explore how people with medical issues such as endometriosis are able to access period products by prescription.
The move was welcomed by many on social media:
The Scottish Government has confirmed they WILL back the general principles of the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill.
— FreePeriodProducts (@Period_Poverty) February 19, 2020
Cross-party and non-party working on equalities issues is my absolute favourite 🙌 https://t.co/iXSOfX2NbM
— Caitlin Logan (@_CaitLogan) February 19, 2020
Congratulations @MonicaLennon7 for leading an incredible campaign against period poverty in the lead up to the bill and after the SNP failed to back it. This is what real change looks like 👏🏼👏🏼 https://t.co/PgJ0TiQVyR
— Rhea Wolfson (@rheawolfson) February 19, 2020
Hugely welcome U-turn by the SNP on #PeriodPoverty. Its opposition to the principle of Monica Lennon's bill was embarrassingly tribal.
— Tom Freeman (@TomFreemanSGP) February 19, 2020
What a turnaround on the period poverty bill. Some absolute 10/10 lobbying from across the sector and within parliament. https://t.co/c9Amwz36G5
— Jamie Flaherty (@Jmeflah) February 19, 2020
One person noted how the cross-party support for the bill showed “Holyrood… at its best”:
Amazing work from @MonicaLennon7, with support from Labour, the Greens, LibDems, and grassroots SNP to get this bill through.
— Tristan Gray (@tristangrayedi) February 19, 2020
Not quite cut and dried
But as one Twitter user pointed out, it’s not a done deal just yet:
This is absolutely the right thing to do! Stage one is about the principle not the content. Stage 2 & 3 allow for the legislation to be amended, that’s the time for detail.
— David McColgan (@RealDavidMc) February 19, 2020
This is because the SNP-led Scottish government has only supported the “principles” of the bill. It’s being more guarded about the idea of free sanitary products for all. As communities secretary Aileen Campbell said:
We have significant and very real concerns about the practicality and deliverability of the Bill in its current form, which were reflected in the Local Government Committee’s Stage 1 report.
However, as a signal of our good faith and in recognition of the broad consensus about general policy objectives, we will support the Bill at this stage.
In other words, the Scottish government is worried free universal sanitary products would cost it too much. Admittedly, much of Holyrood’s budget is dictated to by Westminster. But with a pot of nearly £50bn for 2020/21, the £24m cost per year of free sanitary products is 0.04% of this. If the SNP truly is the “radical and progressive” force in politics it claims to be, then being a world-leader in tackling period poverty would be a huge step in the right direction.
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