On Tuesday 24th November 2020, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill to offer period products for free to those who need them, making history as the first country in the world to do this.
The bill was introduced by Labour MSP and campaigner against period poverty Monica Lennon in 2019. Under this new legislation, the Scottish Government must develop and implement a nationwide scheme in which those who need period products can access them for free, and the Scottish Government will have the power to make other public bodies also provide these products for free. Schools, colleges, and universities must also make products available in their toilets, free of charge. Students in Scotland have been able to access free sanitary products since 2018 after it was discovered that 1 in 4 students struggled to access them, but this bill will extend this to other sectors of the public. This historical move has put Scotland at the forefront of eradicating period poverty.
The Royal College of Nursing defines period poverty as ‘the lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints’. With tampons and sanitary towels costing up to £8 a month, many people struggle to meet the cost for these essential products. 1 in 10 girls in the UK can’t afford them and 1 in 7 have difficulty affording period products, according to a 2017 survey by Plan International UK.
Throughout the UK, there have been moves made to eradicate period poverty. In January 2020, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the scrapping of the ‘Tampon Tax’, the 5% VAT charged on sanitary products, from January 2021. This was made possible because of the UK’s exit from the EU, whose laws determine tampons and sanitary towels as luxury items. But as the UK will no longer be a member state, they can determine their own level of taxation or remove it completely. It is estimated that the move will save people an average of £40 in their lifetime.
For some, however, this reduction in VAT won’t be enough for them to be able to afford the products they need, especially following a year that has seen a pandemic greatly increase period poverty. Scotland’s historic move in 2020 has come at a critical moment for many. Monica Lennon MSP has stated: ‘Periods don’t stop for pandemics and the work to improve access to essential tampons, pads, and reusables has never been more important.’
This bill will set a precedent for other countries to move towards ending period poverty, and that it can be achieved.
Scotland will not be the last country to make period poverty history