The cost of living crisis is impacting people who have periods, with almost a quarter struggling to afford products such as tampons and sanitary towels.
New research from WaterAid has found that nearly a third think they might not be able to afford these essential products in the future too, highlighting the ongoing problem of period poverty.
The charity surveyed 2,000 Brits aged 14 to 50 to to mark Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May and highlight to scale of the problem.
Worryingly, a fifth (20%) cope by using makeshift materials, such as loo roll and sponges, 26% wear period products for longer than they should, risking their health, and one in six (15%) admit to having missed school or work during their period.
The charity’s poll also revealed that in the last year, 22% of British women and girls have relied on free period products from work, school, a food bank or other charity, while 30% have had to choose cheaper brands to cut costs.
Over three fifths (61%) said if period products were cheaper or more free products were available, it would improve their mental health or wellbeing.
Turns out school-aged girls are among the hardest hit, with two in five (41%) worrying about adding to the financial burden of their parent or caregiver, and one in five (20%) admitting to skipping school or work as a result of struggling to afford period products.
A deeper delve into the results reveals that women and girls are going to extreme lengths to cope with the financial burden of their period.
“I am using toilet roll and the cheapest I can find to use for periods. Not hygienic or recommended but it’s all I can afford,” one respondent revealed.
While another added: “As someone with stage 4 endometriosis, this means I use more pads and a lot more thicker pads than an ordinary woman, therefore costing a lot more each month which is a great worry and stress on my finances on top of everything else.”
Watch: One woman’s fight against period poverty
A third admitted to turning to home-made products while menstruating: “On occasions I have not had pads as a teenager due to poverty and have had to make pads with kitchen towel and sellotape.
"I have also had to cut up baby nappies and use those,” one added.
As a result of the concerning findings, WaterAid is calling for menstrual health to be recognised as critical for gender equality, so no one is held back because of this natural part of daily life.
Commenting on the findings Therese Mahon, regional programme manager South Asia, WaterAid, said: “An estimated 1.8 billion people across the world menstruate yet one in five have no access to the decent toilet facilities they need to manage their periods safely and many struggle to access suitable materials – an issue that is exacerbated during times of upheaval.
“But periods do not stop for pandemics or economic crises. That is why WaterAid is calling on all governments to prioritise the needs of women and girls globally; providing them with access to period friendly toilets and clean water – their fundamental human rights – along with menstrual health information and support so they can manage their periods hygienically and with dignity; enabling them to be more resilient whatever the crisis.”
While steps have been made to tackle period poverty in the UK, such as removing the tampon tax, 83% of survey respondents think more needs to be done.
Meanwhile almost three quarters (71%) believe people should be able to pick up free period products more widely, and 61% think schools need to educate students on cost-effective ways to manage periods.
Some individual respondents, when offered the chance to give their own views, said that they thought period products should be free, cheaper or subsidised.
“The Government need to make period products cheaper as it is a medical need,” one commented.
While reusable products have been discussed as being part of the solution to the period poverty problem, it seems many are struggling to cope with the initial outlay.
“Reusables should be subsidised for those on low incomes," one respondent suggested. "They are expensive.”
The survey results follow further research by Plan International, which revealed that the coronavirus crisis has left many girls and women worldwide struggling to manage their periods.
A further study, specifically covering the experiences of girls in Britain, found that a staggering three in ten UK girls have struggled to afford or access sanitary products during lockdown, with over half (54%) having to use toilet paper as an alternative.
Amika George, the inspirational 20-year-old Cambridge student who started the national Free Periods campaign when she was only 17 described the statistics as "heartbreaking".
"In our society periods are still regarded as such a taboo topic and the stigma prevents girls from talking about their periods and the fact they don’t have access to the products they need," the author of Make it Happen: A handbook to tackling the biggest issues facing the world in 2022 explained.
After two years of fighting, George's Free Periods campaign celebrated a major victory with the UK Government’s pledge in April 2019 to provide free sanitary products in all schools by 2020.
The move follows a previous announcement that the products would be made available in secondary schools.