Updated: Jun 15, 2020
By Emmanuel Fisher
Since 2018 The Scottish Government has been distributing free sanitary products to women and girls in schools, colleges and universities. The policy has been introduced to tackle “period poverty” and will cost the government £5.2 million. New calls to have this policy apply to all women in Scotland have been made with a price tag of £24 million. While a small percentage of government spending the policy is but another example of frivolous use of tax payer’s money.
The grassroots group women for independence claims that 1 in 5 women experience period poverty as they struggle to access sanitary products and thus their hygiene and health suffer. Yet these statistics ignore a few important factors that make the Scottish governments policy redundant.
Sanitary products are relatively cheap, and most women can afford them, making a policy that applies to all women overkill at the expense of the taxpayer. Below are prices from Superdrug and Boots. Major brands are sold at relatively low prices and often as a part of deals and offers making the cost of the products even cheaper. If those prices are too high, then cheaper alternatives are available. Some own brand sanitary products from supermarkets are sold for less than £1.
Website moneysavingexpert.com estimated that sanitary products would cost a woman £2,756 over the course of their life and claimed that switching to the cheaper alternatives would mean a woman could spend £242 over the course of their lives on tampons. Neither figure is however outrageous. The Office for National Statistics states that the average household in the UK spends £554.20 a week. Sanitary products are not a drain on poor families in the same way that transport, clothing and footwear are. Sanitary products are not a huge part of a family’s budget.
Huffington post claimed that periods cost the average woman £429 a year. This figure is somewhat deceptive. Huffington post admits that, per month, £8 went towards new underwear and £8.50 went towards “chocolate Sweets and crisps” and £7 to “other (magazines/toiletries/DVDs etc.)”. It is clear that one must take indirect costs into account to even start to consider periods a drain on funds. Huffington post came to the conclusion that because the average woman will menstruate about “450 times, the total cost of a period during a female’s lifetime was worked out at a whopping £18,450” of course this includes game of thrones box sets and Cadbury chocolate bars. The figure from moneysavingexpert.com is not entirely accurate either. Some indirect costs relating to painkillers can be included but again they are relatively cheap. Huffington post agrees claiming that women will spend £4.50 on painkillers during a period. The idea that most women are struggling to afford to have periods is ridiculous. “Period poverty” is only a problem for those living in destitute poverty and those who are homeless. For the people that “period poverty” actually impacts, provisions are already in place. Food banks and charities regularly hand out sanitary products to the poorest in society making the Scottish government’s policy overkill. It is the equivalent of assisting a few starving individuals by giving everybody free food (meanwhile the starving people are provided for through existing channels). Will it help? Sure. But the policy will be more expensive than it needs to be.
There are also other factors at play that create the effects of “period poverty”. Many supporting the policy will cite the absence rates at school and the dangerous lengths women will take in substituting sanitary products. Yet this is more a result of embarrassment than financing. Many who are experiencing periods for the first time will avoid telling others and may be afraid to buy or ask someone else to purchase the products they require. While this policy would circumvent the need for a young girl to be put in an embarrassing situation, education would suffice. Giving schools the appropriate materials and giving children appropriate lessons regarding periods would offset much of this stigma. The Scottish Government, as it has done before, appears to be simply throwing money at problems without second thought. Those who genuinely require assistance should be given it, but by extending assistance to people who need no help, public funds are wasted.
Another question must be raised. Where does this form of public spending end? Would the Scottish government subsidise toilet roll? The reasoning behind such a policy is the same as it is for sanitary products. People require it, it is similarly priced and most likely contributes more lifetime spending than sanitary products (as it is used far more). Toothpaste and Toothbrushes? Nail clippers? Shampoo? Giving such things to people for free is the conclusion we find ourselves at by following the logic behind the Scottish governments policy. Doing so of course would be a mistake. It would cost far too much. However, if it does not then the government will have shown itself to be merely posturing. By focusing on “period poverty” the Scottish government has not spent £5.2 million just to increase access sanitary products but to pander to certain demographics for re-election.
The distribution of free stuff by a state also plays negatively into the free market, and prevents it from doing what it does best (Increasing quality and reducing prices). If the state chooses a certain brand of sanitary product or contraception to freely distribute, it denies many consumers their choice. Consumer choice is vital in a free market. If people are free to choose products by weighing up costs and quality, then the companies who produce the product that is sold at the best price and at the best quality will win. The consumer, not the state is best placed to make such decisions. The state may find in times of austerity to cut corners and go for the cheapest ,lowest quality, brand or if it has more money than it knows how to spend it might unjustly reward a company who sets unjustifiably high prices in relation to its product's features. In both situations it would be artificially rewarding poor business decisions that would otherwise be punished in a free market. This has the effect of keeping prices high (Even though such products are relatively cheap).
The SNP has deemed it fit to throw money at problems that money can't fix. Why? well to appear pro women and get relelected on the back of its surface level policy making. I would be fine with this if it wasn't our money that the SNP showed such little regard for. I hope the SNP will move away from this knee jerk, media driven spending. If it does not then it is not fit to govern. Like the school boy standing for class rep, it offers nice little policies ,all wrapped up in a bow, that capture the attention of the electorate. But the SNP are second rate illusionists, snake oil merchants and con artists. They distract the public from their awful record in office with friendly policies driven not by fact, but feelings.