Period poverty under the spotlight in Leeds

Councillors from across the political divide in Leeds have said work needs to continue to tackle period poverty in Leeds.

Councillors say more needs to be done to tackle period poverty in Leeds.
Councillors say more needs to be done to tackle period poverty in Leeds.

During a passionate debate at a full meeting of Leeds City Council, members today (Wednesday) shared harrowing stories of young women who were having to cope with no access to sanitary products.

The point was also made that contraceptives are readily available for free, but sanitary products are somehow still seen as a luxury.

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During the discussion on last month’s executive board meeting, Coun Hannah Bithell (Lab), who works as a teacher, told the meeting: “I would love to be able to tell you I have not seen blood on chairs after classes, but I have.

“Sanitary protection should be a right.”

She added: “If you can get a condom for free, how can you deny people sanitary protection who need it most?”

The meeting heard how the council is currently working with schools across Leeds on a strategy to help make sanitary products more readily available to girls whose families struggle to make ends meet.

Coun Jess Lennox (Lab) added: “We have heard much about the increasing struggles that families in Leeds have about providing the basics.

“Period poverty is real and it is happening today.”

She added that there was still a VAT of five per cent on sanitary products.

Coun Dan Cohen (Con) said: “Speaking as a father of three daughters, it is outrageous that in the 21st century, there is any stigma around what is an entirely natural monthly event.

Coun Salma Arif (Lab) then gave an account of a young girl in her ward, who had to roll a sock in her underwear while she was in school due to having no access to sanitary products.

Coun Arif added: “If you can’t afford to feed yourself, you can’t afford sanitary products.

“They are not an added extra or a nice-to-have – they are an essential.

“Whilst the government has been directed elsewhere by Brexit, our daughters, mothers and sisters have been deprived.”

Coun Matthew Robinson (Con) said: “I don’t have personal experience of having a period or having extreme poverty, but it does not mean I don’t care about the issue. It’s something we should be talking about.

“Contraception is so often available for free, but are we doing the same thing to put sanitary products on the same list. It is something we should take seriously.

“The VAT added according to EU regulations, I hope this is one of the first things to go after March 29.”

The council’s portfolio holder for learning, skills and employment Coun Jonathan Pryor (Lab) said: “I am glad we were able to discuss period poverty.

“We are working in community hubs and libraries, not just schools.

“It is a total disgrace where girls are living in a society where they miss out on education, purely because of the function of their bodies.”

Concluding the executive board discussions, leader of Leeds City Council Judith Blake said: “I am incredibly proud of all the contributions today reflecting extraordinary work we do in our communities. We have an incredibly important role in influencing and empowering and leading by example.

“It is so powerful to hear personal experiences. It helps to inform our decision making and helps us to understand the impact on people in our communities.

“We have a responsibility that the constituents’ experiences are taken into account.

“I get the sense that the Tories are a bit subdued today.

“On a serious note, they recognise too the damaging impact that some of their national policies are having on our communities.”