Leeds to tackle period poverty

University research is helping combat period poverty in city schools.

Dr Gill Main, Associate Professor of Education, is leading the University’s research into childhood poverty

Dr Gill Main, who is leading University research into period poverty. September 2018

The University is partnering Leeds City Council (LCC) to work with young people, schools and other settings to investigate the impact this issue has on attendance in education.

Period poverty is a lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, LCC’s Executive Member for Learning, Skills and Employment, is keen to ensure measures are in place to make sure no girl in Leeds has to miss school because of her period, or go without lunch because she has spent her money on sanitary protection.

LCC will be conducting a pilot study with Carr Manor Community School to discuss the prevalence of period poverty and explore the best ways to mitigate it.

The pilot scheme and the research findings will be used to generate ideas to tackle period poverty in Leeds. The aim is to reduce the stigma around the issue and ensure all young people can access sanitary protection when they need it.

LCC is also looking into provision in libraries and community hubs to help tackle period poverty for women of any age.

Councillor Pryor said: “It is a damming indictment of our society if girls are left in the position of not being able to afford sanitary protection, leading to them missing school or even meals.

“Child poverty is rising and we have a duty to mitigate its impact as much as possible. I would like to thank Carr Manor Community School and the University of Leeds for agreeing to work with us as we try and find a solution to what, quite frankly, should not be a problem in this city.”

Dr Gill Main, Associate Professor of Education (Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law), is leading the University’s research.

Her Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Future Research Leaders grant project – entitled Fair Shares and Families – investigates links between child poverty and well-being, focusing specifically on how families across the income spectrum go about obtaining and sharing resources. 

Policy and media portrayals of poverty often suggest these families make different choices – or have different aspirations and motivations – to better-off families, claiming this is the cause of poverty. The Fair Shares and Families project report – which is launched on Thursday 27 September in London – reveals no evidence was found to support these portrayals. Families in poverty had similar motivations, aspirations and approaches to sharing their resources as better-off families, but had to engage in a range of extra activities, including economising on necessities, in order to cope with life in poverty.  

The study reveals children aged 10-17 who are living in poverty are significantly more likely to be engaging in a range of economising activities, including going without basic necessities, such as sufficient food, and hiding their needs from parents and peers. This can lead to social exclusion. While period poverty was not specifically included in the research, it is likely to form one aspect of this type of economising.

Dr Main recently submitted her findings to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Professor Philip Alston, in advance of his visit to the UK.  

She said: “Poverty during childhood is associated with a host of negative outcomes for children, and for the adults that children become. One of the impacts on children is having to engage in economising activities, and experiencing social exclusion. We know from the Fair Shares and Families study that these are linked to lower subjective well-being during childhood. They may also be one of the pathways by which poverty impacts well-being throughout people's lives.  

“Period poverty is a clear example of a situation in which a lack of adequate financial and material provision results in social exclusion and economising. Both poverty and menstruation are associated with stigma, which often results in feelings of shame, so the combination of the two is likely to be a particularly harmful experience for girls. Therefore, attention Leeds City Council is paying to this issue strongly complements the findings from Fair Shares and Families, and provides a welcome opportunity to investigate the topic further and, hopefully, to contribute to making a real difference to the lives of girls in Leeds who are experiencing period poverty.”

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