Period Poverty: The Painful Truth We Need to Accept

According to a 2017 study by Plan International UK, one in ten women between the ages of 14-21 have, at some point, been unable to afford sanitary products. One in seven of the 1,000 participants admitted to asking a friend to using sanitary towels or tampons because they couldn’t afford to buy their own.

You may not believe it, but period poverty does exist. Millions of women experience the harsh reality of it every month and it’s not just here in the UK.

We’ve all been though it – the pain, the leaking, the fear of missing out on daily activities – it sucks. As someone who struggled with the pain each month to the point I can’t remember just how many symptoms I had, I know how it feels to struggle to the point where I’d cry for hours. I would sit in bed, sleeping most of the day, taking time off school and ended up missing a college exam – which I then sat the next day – but that only added to my isolation.

After six years of pain that left me paralysed for an hour or two, I finally visited the doctors and I wish I had done sooner. Looking back, I never realised how lucky I was despite the pain. I had a house, I was able to afford sanitary products and wash any blood stained clothes. I was also able to go to the doctors and take pain medication when I needed to – something I had always taken for granted – perhaps you do too?

This is just one of the many reasons I strongly believe we need free, universal access to sanitary products for all women.

The facts we’re not talking about…

The cheapest pack of pads you can purchase would usually be the stores own, averaging around 70p for a packet of 12. Women are advised to change their pad at least every four hours, meaning the average woman uses around five pads per day. Periods can last anywhere between 3-7 days meaning in total, a woman uses 35 pads per month. If we take the cheapest option at 70p, a woman spends just over £2 per month. However, these don’t always to the trick. Women must take into account their flow which could mean they’re changing their pads more often and stores own sanitary towels usually leak and don’t do much other than soak up some blood – not ideal for anyone!


If we look at a better quality brands such as Always or Bodyform, their prices can range anywhere from £2 to £4. These towels are far superior from the point of view they absorb your period and prevent leaking as well as neutralising odour. Taking this into account, women are now spending around £10 per month averaging around £120 per year.

Other costs include pain medication, prescriptions for medication and replacing blood stained clothing and bed sheets – all of which people seem to forget.

It’s easy to say that’s not a lot of money, but until you’re in poverty, it’s very easy to judge. I’m sure if they could afford it, they would purchase it. Blood soaked clothes, taking time off work and missing exams is not anyone’s idea of fun.

So whilst we must help to tackle the issue of period poverty, we must also look at the root cause.

Over the past few years, there has been a rise in those seeking help from Food Banks so much so that between April 1 2017 and March 31 2018, The Trussell Trust’s food bank network distributed over 1.3M three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis – a 13% increase compared to last year. However whilst we focus on our basic survival needs such as food and water, we often forget to realise sanitary products are another basic need – one which many food banks do not receive.

Single mothers, large families and those living on benefits are often frowned upon as if it’s their fault for being in poverty yet fail to realise low wages are also a factor, aka, the root cause. Gas and food prices are on the rise, another factor we need to look at. So having £120 out of their already tight budget is not brilliant.

We forget the homeless have no money and every penny they get will go towards food. Not having a place to clean after bleeding for a week straight is immoral. You don’t like waiting for the bus in the rain, just imagine being homeless during the winter season.

I’d rather pay tax to help the homeless and those in period poverty compared to already rich politicians and their lavish dinners. Wouldn’t you?

The charity, Bloody Good Period, estimates the average sum of having a period can cost an individual £5,000 in their lifetime.

In another survey according to the charity, 45% of those living in Scotland said they had been forced to make sanitary pads from socks or newspaper. It also revealed more than 27% had to use it longer than intended due to lack of resources, increasing their chances of an infection and damaging their health.

During exam time, chances are you may experience having your period. You know that horrible feeling (especially if its unexpected) one minute you’re writing, you get an awful pain in your stomach and minutes later you start your period. Now you’re sitting in an exam hall with blood soaked clothes and worried that when you’ll stand up the colour of the chair will give it away. In some cases this does happen and can lead to the individual being distracted. So can you blame them for not turning up and feeling alone?

What’s the latest?

A new scheme with Plan International UK is looking to introduce a P-Card, similar to the current version of a C-Card. The C-Card is a scheme in which condoms and sexual health advice are freely available to the public. With a P-Card, this would allow young girls and women to have access to free sanitary products and advice if needed due to their financial situation.

There are many companies now taking part to actively campaign for the eradication of period poverty which in turn, has caused a rise in the number of students helping charities to tackle the issue.

Scotland became the first country to provide sanitary products free for all young girls and women with North Ayrshire becoming the first local authority to provide these to the public. This £5.2 million policy will help to promote access to sanitary products to around 400,000 students.

We simply cannot allow condoms to be freely available yet put our foot down when it comes to sanitary products. Women are in pain, bleeding and missing vital exams and days at work, we need to help them get back their confidence. Let them have access to their basic needs to ensure they can start and end their period feeling dignified, knowing they’ll be alright.

If we’re not willing to talk about it openly and break the stigma, how can we expect people to seek help when they’re already in poverty?

Here’s a list of some charities and campaigns in the U.K. which you can help support:


Plan International UK

Action Aid

GU Red Alert

Simon Scotland



  1. 17th November 2018 / 4:35 AM

    I live in the States and I wish we had programs similar to this for those women in need.

    • Sophie
      17th November 2018 / 9:06 AM

      That’s such a shame you don’t – hopefully in the next year people will realise how helpful this will be towards women and young girls who need these products

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