About bloody time

Isabella Hunter-Fajardo explores the recent announcements on menstrual wellbeing and period poverty.

The recent Spring Statement included a commitment to fund free sanitary products in secondary schools and colleges in ​England from the next school year. Philip Hammond said that the measure is in response to rising concerns that girls are missing school due to costs of sanitary products, and he applauded colleagues from across the House for their campaigning efforts on the issue.

Of course, credit must be given to countless advocates and public affairs professionals who have been instrumental in lobbying MPs as well.

Provision in schools builds on the announcement earlier this month that female patients in NHS hospitals will be offered free sanitary products and tampons during their stay from the summer of this year.

A similar recognition of outdated practices with regard to more general health, was an announcement last month on the new compulsory health education and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in schools in England. The new subjects will be universal from 2020, covering a range of topics with a focus on mental wellbeing, as well as (finally) covering menstrual wellbeing, LGBT+ relationships and identities, online safety and Female Genital Mutilation. Connect was proud to support clients in their responses to the consultation.

Accompanying these announcements, Penny Mordaunt recently launched a new campaign to end period poverty globally by 2030, with £2million of UK aid to help organisations around the world who are working to eradicate period poverty and end stigma. She also announced a new taskforce comprising various government departments as well as manufacturers, retailers, social enterprises and charities, to lever funding and expertise from the private sector for sustainable solutions to end UK period poverty.

While all these announcements are undoubtedly welcome, it does beg the question – why were these not already in place?

Indeed, some of these measures have been criticised by campaigning groups, the taskforce announced by Penny Mordaunt for example, characterised as an example of government kicking the can down the road.

As part of the secretariat team to the Women and Work All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), we have heard about the impact the stigma and the lack of research and understanding of women’s health issues have on the workforce and labour market. For example, new research from Endometriosis UK and Standard Life found that the condition costs the UK economy £8.2 billion per year; 1 in 5 women have heavy menstrual bleeding – which is outrageous when you really think about what period poverty means for those who are struggling to make ends meet.

The APPG is keen to keep up this long-overdue momentum, by shedding further light and raising awareness through our programme of meetings in Parliament.

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