Your web browser is outdated and may be insecure

The RCN recommends using an updated browser such as Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome

woman looking out of window

Period Poverty

Periods are a normal part of life. It is increasingly recognised that good menstrual health is an essential component to 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, 2020)

Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints.

In 2017, a survey (Plan International UK) reported that 1 in 10 girls had been unable to afford sanitary products; 1 in 7 had to ask to borrow sanitary wear from a friend due to affordability issues; and 1 in 10 had to improvise sanitary wear. It is estimated that currently over 137,000 children across the UK have missed school days due to period poverty. 

Previously across the UK, 5% VAT was added to sanitary products, including tampons, pads and towels.  In 2017, Nursing Standard reported growing incidents of school nurses buying sanitary products to keep pupils in school. Foodbanks are also being relied upon to provide sanitary products for women and families. Some national supermarkets cut prices or paid the 5% tax themselves to increase affordability. In 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to make products free.

After significant pressure from a wide variety of campaigns the Government finally removed the so- called “tampon tax” at the start of 2021.

Distribution of free products to women and girls in education was limited during lockdown in the COVID-19 pandemic and there has been concern over the increase in reliance on during this time, so it remains key that Nurses and Midwives continue to be alert to the issue to support patients and address the associated stigma.

This new report from The Trussell Trust reveals how coronavirus has affected food bank use.

Further information can be found at:

Please find below a short podcast from RCN Women's Health Forum member Ruth Bailey, which provides details on the RCN's recent work on period poverty.

In January 2019, NHS England committed to providing free sanitary products to women and girls in hospitals. Menstrual hygiene is fundamental to providing dignified care. Local authorities across England have started to offer free sanitary products for staff and users and by the end of 2020 all students at schools, colleges, and universities should have access to free products. Local authorities are receiving funding to help tackle period poverty in areas where levels of deprivation are highest, whilst further funding is being invested to improve facilities and equipment in schools and to ensure access to good sanitary facilities for all children and young people who need them.

Extra funding to help tackle period poverty was announced by the Scottish Government. A total of £4m is being made available to councils in Scotland to work in partnership with other organisations to meet local needs. This follows the Scottish Government’s commitment of £5.2m to make free sanitary products available to students in schools, colleges and universities across Scotland from August 2018. In November 2020 the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, was unanimously approved by MPSs. There is now a legal duty on local authorities to ensure that free items such as tampons and sanitary pads are available to "anyone who needs them".  

In September 2019, Derry City & Strabane District Council became the first local authority in Northern Ireland to offer free sanitary products in some public buildings. In December 2020, the Northern Ireland executive, confirmed access to free sanitary products for all schools, and  the scheme is expected to be in place for September 2021.

In Wales, the Welsh Government through renewed funding for 2020 has committed more than £3.3m to tackle period poverty in communities and promoting period dignity in schools and colleges across Wales. To ensure every college, primary and secondary school across the country will benefit from a £3.1m fund, enabling them to provide free sanitary products for every learner who may need them. And each local authority will be allocated part of a £220,000 fund to help them provide free period products to women and girls who may otherwise be unable to afford them, making them available in community-based locations such as libraries and hubs. The Welsh Government has committed £1.1 million in 2018, £2.3 million in 2019, the renewed funding of £3.3 million for 2020-21 will mean they can continue to ensure period dignity for every woman and girl in Wales by providing appropriate products and facilities.

Members in Wales particularly those working in children services across the country have spoken out about Period Poverty and how it is a crisis for young people in Wales. RCN Wales has highlighted period poverty issues on social media platforms and has encouraged members of the public to make donations to local food banks other organisations collecting sanitary products. 

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

If you would like to help this cause by carrying out a sanitary products collection locally, at work, in a local club or in a school, this guide will help you.

See: Period Poverty: How to…carry out a sanitary wear /products collection

The RCN implemented a collection box for the RCN Woman’s Health Conference in November 2019, with great success at their Headquarters in London, and RCN HQ staff and attendees to the conference were offered the opportunity to donate packets of sanitary products, which were distributed to two organisations: Bloodygoodperiod, who collect and distribute products to refugees and asylum seekers, and a further large box was sent to a foodbank in Camden.

This was extended across the RCN estate in March 2020 for International Woman’s Day, with most RCN offices actively engaging in this process. Contact with some offices revealed an ongoing process of contributing to local charities and foodbanks.

We also hosted a Twitter chat in November 2019, to discuss period poverty in health and care settings: #RCNchat, which proved popular and enlightening. Nurses discussed the distress that period poverty causes to physical and mental health of their patients and also shared disturbing personal experiences of period poverty.

Girl Guides launched a campaign and now have a new End Period Poverty badge.

In Cornwall the period poverty work going on at the moment is through Brook. They are running a programme called Let’s Talk Period. It is funded through the Tampon Tax grant and managed through Brook. It is being evaluated by Plan International UK.

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, has a 'Tampon Fairy' (who is a CNS specialising in women's health), who provides free products in the toilets for anyone to access and use, which has been well received by many.

RCN West Midlands (2019) collected sanitary products and then distributed these to homeless shelters within the City. They keep a big red box in the office just for this purpose so staff, activists and members can pop these in at any time. They also ask branches to promote period poverty during 2019 and 2020, as they hold 60 local learning events between them throughout the year. 

RCN Bolton office have been carrying out collections for a number of years. They have regular collections and have a designated collection point in the staff room. They support a local charity based in Bolton called Fresh as a Daisy.

RCN Congress 2019. In 2019, the Bolton office staff were also responsible for organising a collection at RCN Congress 2019. It was hoped to repeat this exercise in 2020, however due to the Coronavirus pandemic, RCN Congress 2020 has been postponed to 2021.

RCN Northern Region, based in Sunderland, already have a scheme in that we do bring in sanitary products to put in our food bank parcels which we donate regularly. We also as a team utilise the two giving back days to actually go and work in the foodbank, and have engaged in sorting and packing food, assisting with the collection and delivery of food and even re-decorating the food bank premises.

RCN Scotland offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow contributed to the 2020 collection for International woman’s day, and free products are now available for staff and members in the main toilets in the Scotland HQ in Edinburgh.

RCN Wales Headquarters at Ty Maeth have been carrying out collections for a number of years, with staff bringing in products which have then been donated to the Huggard Centre, a local day centre and hostel for people who are sleeping rough, and most recently a box sanitary products was donated to the Cardiff Foodbank.  The RCN Wales team has also registered their interest in volunteering at the Cardiff Foodbank going forward.

RCN Cardiff Gate office (including RCN Direct) donated sanitary products in aid of International Women’s Day. They divided the collection between the local foodbank and a nearby hospital. Some midwives at the hospital were appealing for donations of sanitary products for women who were in need and did not have any essential products. 

Page last updated - 27/06/2023