Period Poverty at University: The Other Pandemic

Written by AK Yuill, Studenteer HQ. @studenteer.

Over the past year, there has been no doubt that students have been one of the worst affected groups during the pandemic. From paying the full £9250 for 2 hours of pre-recorded lectures per week to paying rent for houses which remain empty, students have had to overcome difficulties like no other. This sits alongside the little to no mental health support or measures to protect grades supplied by university, so many students are hugely worried about their futures.

But these are not the only issues students are having to face. For many, university is seen as a rite-of-passage, one where you become an adult and live independently for the first time. A key part of this is budgeting. Most students rely on the government’s maintenance loan scheme, which, whilst essential for living, barely covers rent for most. For this reason, more than a third of students work a part-time job alongside their full-time studies, according to Student Beans in 2019.

However, over the past year, students have been some of the first let go from their jobs, which are often in the hospitality and retail sectors. This has left these students with no other income, and so alongside groceries and other expenses, sanitary products are becoming much harder to afford.

This is unfortunately of no surprise. Research by Intima in 2019 reported that women spend an average of £10.95 on period products per month, which adds up to around £5000 in a reproductive lifetime. In the same study, 79% said they have made sacrifices or gone with less to be able to buy menstrual products.

When looking specifically at the impacts on young people, Plan International UK have said that across the UK, 1 in 10 menstruators aged 14-21 is unable to afford sanitary products, 1 in 7 struggles to afford them and 49% have missed an entire day of school because of their period.

These shocking statistics are an insight into concerns that campaigners have been raising for years and are finally making change a reality for the future. The government currently provides funding for free period products in state-maintained schools and age 16-19 education facilities, alleviating the worries of thousands of students. Some universities such as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Exeter also provide support with menstrual products.

Furthermore, the “tampon tax” (or tax on period products), was abolished at the start of this year in the UK, meaning sanitary products are no longer classed as luxury items. Scotland also became the first country to make period products free to all who need them in November 2020

These efforts are slowly but surely paying off but there is evidently still a long way to go. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of products given out by period poverty charity Bloody Good Period has risen six times; one of the key reasons being sudden lack of access due to schools and universities closing. This sudden lack of access, budget and mental health support with regards to periods only adds to the other anxieties students are experiencing.

Periods don’t stop with a pandemic, so it is essential to do what we can.

Here is what you can do today to help:

  • If you’re a student, check with your student union to see whether there are any current schemes working to combat period poverty, or whether your university supplies, and is continuing to supply free period products during the pandemic. See if you can get involved with a scheme like this.

  • Bloody Good Period are encouraging students to write to vice-chancellors to highlight the struggles faced by menstruators at university and call for proper access to period products. You can find an email template on page 20 of this document:

  • If affordable, reusable period products such as period pants, reusable pads and menstrual cups can work out as a more cost-friendly option in the long run. However, the upfront cost can be prohibitive and may require easy access to laundry facilities, which may not always be available.

  • Many homeless shelters, women’s refuges and period poverty charities are accepting donations of period supplies as well as funds. You can check with your local organisations online, as well as with charities such as Bloody Good Period, Red Box Project and Period Poverty UK to see how they can help you and others.

  • Follow pages such as Period Talks on social media to educate yourself and share their content to spread awareness of issues such as period poverty.