Third of young women and girls in UK can’t access free period products

More than 30% have no access to free menstrual products at school or college, despite government schemes

Almost a third of girls and young women in the UK cannot access free period products at their school or college, despite government schemes being in place for several years, research suggests.

Some 32% of girls and young women said they could not access free menstrual products at their school or college because they were unavailable, according to a survey commissioned by Girlguiding.

The charity is calling on the Department for Education to fully evaluate England’s period products scheme and make it permanent. Currently, the scheme is only available until July 2022, but Girlguiding said there had been recent commitments to renew it.

Savanta surveyed 2,008 girls aged 11 to 18 across the UK between June 13 and 22 for the charity. It found that more than one third of students said they could obtain free period products in their school toilets (35%) but another third revealed they had to ask a teacher if they wanted to access them (32%).

More than half (54%) of respondents said they felt uncomfortable asking for period products at school, while 30% said they felt too embarrassed.

The research also revealed that 77% of girls think period products are too expensive and one in 10 said they or their families could not afford to buy them.

One of three young people interviewed by members of Girlguiding’s youth panel said: “My old school didn’t used to have them. Once, I ran into an issue where I needed them and they weren’t there, and so I had to ask my friend.

“But I know that if my friend wasn’t there I would have been stuck. Trying to avoid girls running into that situation is really important. I just think [the scheme] has had such a positive impact on school life.”

Another respondent said: “The whole idea of a period is taboo and no one really talks about it at school.”

The period products scheme was introduced in England in 2020 following campaigns by Girlguiding and other organisations and activists. It is available to all English state-maintained schools and educational organisations for students aged 16 to 19.

It provides free period products for girls and young women who need them to access education. This scheme was available for organisations to order until 8 July.

Similar schemes were introduced in Scotland and Wales in 2017 and 2018 respectively, while a pilot started in Northern Ireland in September 2021.

Girlguiding also recommends that the DfE make it a requirement for schools and colleges to consult students about what period products they need and how they would like to access them, and issue guidance on how to do this adequately.

It said its research has found there was “ineffective, expensive and wasteful over- and undersupply” when schools and colleges did not ask students about their preferences and needs.

Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) in England was reformed in 2020 to include education on periods. However, less than half of respondents said they learned about the impact of periods on physical and mental health, period stigma and shame at school.

Caitlyn, a Girlguiding advocate, said: “No one should be forced out of education because of their period. We were so pleased in 2020 when the UK government finally introduced free period products in schools and colleges in England.

“But our research shows that the scheme isn’t working as it should and millions either don’t have access to period products, or feel too uncomfortable and embarrassed to access them at school.

“As Girlguiding advocates we’re calling on the government to change this. It shouldn’t be our job to evaluate the scheme. We want the Department for Education and counterparts in devolved nations to do a full evaluation and make the changes needed so that everyone can access the period products they need.”

A DfE spokesman said: “No one should be held back from accessing education due to their period, which is why we launched our free period product scheme to provide girls with period products when they need them.

“We continue to work with schools to tackle period poverty, providing advice and support on ways to promote the scheme to pupils that avoids embarrassment or stigma, and to involve pupils in what products should be ordered.”