NUS to offer free tampons to all female students across the UK

Pledge follows reports that girls and young women from poorer backgrounds are living in monthly 'period poverty'

Rachel Roberts
Tuesday 02 May 2017 12:05 BST
Picture: (iStock)

The National Union of Students has pledged to make sanitary products freely available to all female undergraduates following increasing reports that poorer women are struggling to afford the monthly cost.

Delegates at the NUS’s annual conference voted in favour of using the union’s funds to buy tampons, towels and environmentally friendly moon cups to be handed out to all who request them in a bid to end the "classist" and "sexist" burden to female students.

One student told the Brighton conference she struggled to afford sanitary protection..

“My family was made homeless,” she said. “This was made worse when I came to have my period and couldn’t afford tampons.”

Birmingham University welfare officer Izzy Lenga told the meeting: “The price of tampons is not just sexist, it’s classist...we have to break the cycle and say that while the Government may not care, we do.

“The effects of this are immeasurable and it’s cramping our style,” she added.

“Students are left asking whether their period will affect their bank balance or their health.”

Although the Government announced it will scrap the so-called “tampon tax” which allowed it to slap VAT on sanitary products by classing them as “luxury”, this has not satisfied campaigners.

Some claim the monthly cost is a burden for the poorest female students who they say suffer “period poverty” because student loans allow very little for living expenses once the soaring cost of student rent has been met.

The charity Freedom for Girls, which normally works with poor women in Africa, recently claimed schoolgirls in Leeds are skipping class during their period because they cannot afford to buy sanitary products.

One teenager told BBC Radio Leeds she had resorted to using tissue and rolled-up socks because she did not have the money to buy tampons or towels.

At one time, sanitary products were available to girls through the school nurse, but cuts to funding mean only a minority of educational establishments now have a full-time nurse.

Education Secretary Justine Greening promised to “look carefully” at whether girls eligible for free school meals should also be granted sanitary products after the issue was raised by Greg Mulholland, the Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, in the Commons.

Some universities, including King's College in London as well as Kent, Leeds, Birmingham and the University of East Anglia (UEA), already make free tampons available for students, but the NHS has now pledged to increase availability to all unions across the country.

UEA welfare officer Jo Swo said: “Sanitary products are not a luxury, they are a necessity that UEASU believes every student should have free access to without questioning their financial background or shame.

“We began by selling pads and tampons for tax-free, but now we’ve gone one step further. We believe all students should be able to have the same access to sanitary products and we need to get rid of the stigma that periods are dirty and something you need to spend a fortune on pretending doesn’t happen.”

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