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Period Poverty

Periods are a normal part of life. It is increasingly recognised that good menstrual health plays a part in supporting women’s health and wellbeing.

“Can you imagine not being able to afford or access sanitary products to help manage your period? Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints; this can be caused by a wide range of life events that negatively impact on a girl or woman’s ability to access sanitary products to manage a most intimate and regular occurrence in her life.”

(C Bagness, RCN Professional Lead Midwifery and Women’s Health)  


Period poverty has been described by Plan International as a “toxic trio” of issues preventing people who menstruate from managing their periods as they need to. 


Period poverty remains a global public health issue affecting women, girls and people who menstruate all over the world, including the UK.  

Although estimates vary, period poverty affects both low-income communities in more wealthy western countries, while having a significantly disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities in low-income countries.

Below you can listen to a short podcast from RCN Women’s Health Forum Chair Ruth Bailey, which provides details on the RCN’s previous work on period poverty. 

At RCN Congress 2019, a resolution was proposed and supported around looking at how these plans are being implemented. This included the need to raise awareness about this challenging and often hidden issue for girls and women across the UK society.

The project group found that implementation was patchy, and something the RCN will continue to champion. One way to do this is to have Sanitary wear product collections locally, which can then be donated to local foodbanks and/or charities who can provide free products to those in need. 

Some of these include:-  

Local Food banks can be located via the Trussel Trust

The effects of period poverty are far reaching, with negative consequences affecting a number of areas. Period poverty and the ongoing stigma around periods, can result in missing school, work, avoiding exercise or socialising, all of which can have wider implications for people’s mental health, wellbeing and their future. 

A 2023 survey by an ActionAid poll revealed that: 

  • 21% (more than 1 in 5) women and people who menstruate in the UK are now struggling to afford period products - up from 12% in just 1 year. This amounts to an estimated 2.8 million people, putting around 1 million more people into period poverty versus the previous year.  
  • 14% of survey respondents said they have avoided or missed work during their period, while 13% missed school, college or university. 
  • Whilst 28% relied on period products made available in the school or work setting, 17% said they stayed at home.  
  • 39% missed sport or exercise, while 25% missed socialising with friends while on their periods. For 18 to 24-year-old women and people who menstruate, this amounted to almost half at 48%. 

Of those who avoided or missed some activities as a result of being on their period: 

  • 32% did so because they didn’t feel comfortable wearing the uniform, kit or clothing required for doing the activity 
  • 7% missed activities because they feared being bullied or teased 
  • 64% missed these activities because of period side effects, including fatigue and anxiety.  

The charity Bloody Good Period estimates the average lifetime cost of having periods amounts to £4,800. Period poverty in the UK has been exacerbated by the cost of living crisis, as people are forced to prioritise basic necessities over period products.  

The ActionAid poll found that: 

  • 60% had to prioritise food 
  • 48% had to prioritise gas/electricity 
  • 24% sacrificed period products for themselves so they could afford period products for someone in their household  
  • Those aged 18-24 were most likely to struggle to afford period products. More than a quarter (27%) of people surveyed in this age group said they were affected. 

Without adequate access to period products, some people have to improvise with materials that are uncomfortable and unsafe. Some may have to re-use pads, which can increase the risk of thrush or bacterial infections. They may also leave tampons in for longer than advised, which can increase the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), which is a life-threatening condition that can be caused by infection. 

Of those affected by period poverty:

  • 41% kept pads or tampons in for longer than advised and 8% re-used disposable pads 
  • 37% had used tissues or cotton wool instead of period products in the last 12 months 
  • 13% used socks or other clothing 
  • 9% resorted to using paper or newspaper.  

Menstruation is a natural part of the female reproductive cycle. However, stigma and misconceptions about menstruation, such as being associated with impurity and uncleanliness, can exclude women and girls from many aspects of social and cultural life. 

The superstition of impurity may prevent the person menstruating from carrying out normal daily activities. This may include prayer and visiting temples, drinking from public water sources, eating certain foods, entering the kitchen and touching certain objects and people, through fear that their menstruation will contaminate produce or others in some way.

Such pervasive taboos can create feelings of shame, embarrassment and mental distress during menstruation, and further perpetuates the issue. Menstrual knowledge and effective communication help to identify and address cultural practices that may be detrimental to wellbeing. Empowering people who menstruate to feel comfortable talking about their periods can help bring about awareness and action to eradicate period poverty. 

The ActionAid poll found that:

  • 22% of young women and people who menstruate (aged 18-24) in the UK feel embarrassed during their period - a significant rise from 8% in 2022.
  • 12% said this was because of jokes made about their period by a partner, friends, colleagues or parents
  • 30% because people would see them taking period products to the toilet
  • 58% because of fear of leaking onto their clothes. 

Read Ferne Cotton’s recent Instagram post about period shame and embarrassment. 


In 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products free for all. There is now a legal duty on local authorities to provide free items such as tampons and pads to "anyone who needs them". Products are now distributed through councils and education providers following the Period Products Act which came into force on 12 January 2021. Period products are available in public locations, including schools, colleges, universities, community centres and libraries, and are accessible through vending machines or free-standing dispensers. The PickupMyPeriod mobile app allows users to identify locations across Scotland (over 700 venues) where period products can be accessed for free. A free postal home delivery service is also available for residents who are unable to pick up products in the community or in schools. 


In 2019, NHS England committed to providing free period products to women and girls in hospitals. In 2020, the Government implemented a fully-funded, 4-year period product scheme providing free period products to primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges. Since its launch in January 2020, 99% of secondary schools and 94% of post-16 organisations have ordered products using the scheme. Charities are now urging the UK Government to confirm it will extend the scheme beyond the original July 2024 timeframe. 

Northern Ireland 

In September 2021, Northern Ireland launched a 3-year pilot programme to make free period products available to all pupils who menstruate, in primary, secondary and special schools and EOTAS (Education Otherwise Than at School) settings. In May 2024, section 1 of the Period Product (Free Provision) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 came into operation, which provides that period products will be made available free of charge and enable individuals to obtain products in a way that respects their dignity, privacy, and confidentiality. This will result in period products being provided in a range of public buildings


The Welsh Government’s Period Proud Wales action plan aims to tackle period poverty by improving access to period products and ensuring period dignity, by removing any sense of stigma or shame associated with periods. In 2022, the Welsh Government increased funding to ensure that period products can be accessed free of charge by learners in schools, Further Education Institutions and to those in need in communities to £3.7 million. The Government has already implemented a free-period product scheme to ensure that individuals have access to the menstrual products they need. There are also free period products in schools, public buildings and leisure and sports centres.  

Useful resources 

The Girl Guides has campaigned for better period education. As a result, from 2021 all pupils in England will learn about periods as part of relationship and sex education. They are also working with parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to improve education about periods and menstrual health. The Girl Guides now also have a new End Period Poverty badge. 

Let’s talk. Period is a project by Brook and girls’ rights charity Plan International UK, which is committed to tackling period poverty in England. It is a three-part project consisting of the following:

  1. A P-Card scheme for young people which provides education and access to free period products.
  2. Building a community of professionals to work together to develop effective models of practice.
  3. Small grants scheme to support smaller organisations to tackle period poverty. 

Lidl in Northern Ireland is one of several businesses to announce a Period Poverty Initiative. It provides free period products in all of its stores in Northern Ireland. Since August 2021, all customers who have a Lidl Plus account can receive a monthly coupon for free period products.

The charity Freedom4Girls in Leeds holds sewing workshops for volunteers to sew, assemble and distribute reusable, washable period pad kits. 

There are lots of ways that you can get involved and make a difference to help end period poverty. Here are some examples: 

  • Imparting menstrual cycle knowledge and education to others to help build confidence and debunk the myths surrounding menstruation. 
  • Promoting dialogue around menstrual health to break down taboos, shame or embarrassment about periods through more open, honest conversations. 
  • Normalising the concept and reality of periods to help shape the attitudes of future generations - men and boys must also recognise they play a part. 
  • Educating yourself on the issues and listening to others’ stories and experiences. 
  • Advocating for change – sign petitions or support campaigns and events raising awareness of period poverty.
  • Liaising with charities and local initiatives advocating and carrying out education in menstrual health and providing resources across communities.
  • Choosing periods products from brands that support ending period poverty.
  • Donating period products to your local foodbank.
  • Donating to charity, either global or locally.
  • Marking Menstrual Hygiene Day held on the 28 May each year and promote the dialogue around period poverty.
  • Organising a period product collection locally, which can then be donated to foodbanks and charities who can provide free products to those in need. This guide will help you. See: Period Poverty: How to… carry out a sanitary wear/products collection

Page last updated - 25/06/2024