UK's poorest pupils could receive free tampons to stop girls missing school

Education secretary promises to 'look carefully' at issue after it was revealed girls from low-income families are skipping school because they cannot afford sanitary protection

Girls in Leeds have reportedly been missing school as they cannot afford sanitary products
Girls in Leeds have reportedly been missing school as they cannot afford sanitary products

Tampons and sanitary towels could be given to British pupils from low-income families after it was revealed girls are missing school during their periods because they cannot afford sanitary protection.

When asked in Parliament if she would provide free sanitary products to girls who receive free school meals, education secretary Justine Greening promised to "look carefully" at the issue.

More than 15,000 people have signed a petition calling for schools to give out free tampons and towels, an initiative that has been adopted by a number of US universities and secondary schools.

A charity set up to provide sanitary products to women and girls in Kenya launched an appeal to fund research into the issue after it was discovered a large number of schoolgirls in West Yorkshire were unable to buy products during their menstrual cycle.

Sara Barrie, a police officer working in schools in Leeds, said many girls were asking their teachers for sanitary products or opting not to attend school at all for several days a month.

“Many of these kids are from low-income families. There’s often more than one child, and families really are struggling with finances, with these products often coming far down the priority line" she told The Independent.

"The girls are so sensitive that they don’t want to upset mum by saying they need them because they know money’s tight."

What if men had periods?

PC Barrie informed UK-based charity Freedom4Girls, which usually works in Kenya, of the issue.

The organisation said it had sent some sample packs to the school and had launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for research into the scale of the issue in the UK.

“It is linked to poverty," the charity's head Tina Leslie told The Independent, adding: "it’s not widely known that it’s also an issue here in the UK. We knew it was happening, but not on what scale.

“There were 25,000 visits to food banks in Leeds alone last year. So if you’re at crisis point you go to a food bank and, like in Kenya, if you can’t afford food you can’t afford sanitary protection."

One pupil, who started her period aged 11, told BBC Radio Leeds that she had taped toilet roll to her underwear and missed school every month because she couldn't access sanitary protection.

“I wrapped a sock around my underwear just to stop the bleeding, because I didn't want to get shouted at,“ she said. ”I once Sellotaped tissue to my underwear. I didn't know what else to do.

“I didn't get any money because my mum was a single parent and she had five mouths to feed, so there wasn't much leftover money in the pot to be giving to us.”

During education questions yesterday, Greg Mulholland, MP for Leeds North West, said: "It's deeply shocking in the 21st century that girls, including in Leeds, are not going to school because they can't afford sanitary products," reported The Times Education Supplement.

“I think you have raised an important issue and it's one that I will look at carefully and write to you about," replied Ms Greening.

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