Our position

  • SCVO supports Monica Lennon MSP’s Private Members Bill, which is seeking to create a universal system of free access to period products throughout Scotland.
  • The Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill aims to make it a legal requirement for educational institutes, including schools, colleges and universities, to provide sanitary products at no expense.
  • SCVO’s response is built upon engagement with our member base in order to collate the views of the sector which strongly supports the Bill and its aim to address ‘period poverty’.

Our response

This is SCVO’s response to the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee’s consultation on the Proposed Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill.

The Bill has been brought forward partly in response to concerns about “period poverty” – difficulty in being able to afford period products. Do you think period poverty is a serious issue in Scotland? 

‘Period poverty’ refers to a lack of access to sanitary products due to financial barriers and other constraints. This is a challenge which is being faced throughout the world in low, middle- and high-income countries.[i] Scotland is no exception. Recent research conducted on the impact of ‘period poverty’ highlighted the fact that 45% of respondents to a survey, around barriers to accessing sanitary products, stated that they had been forced to use makeshift sanitary wear including socks or newspapers because they have been unable to afford the appropriate products.[ii] Additionally, in the UK, ‘period poverty’ has caused more than a quarter of women to miss work or school.[iii] This Bill provides the necessary support to alleviate the economic burden faced by women, girls or trans people which prohibits them from accessing sanitary products.

Do you support the overall aim of the Bill – that no one in Scotland should have to pay for period products and that this should be set out in law?

SCVO members that we have engaged with are supportive of the Bill’s ambitions and its efforts to ensure that there is a statutory requirement that ensures that schools, colleges, universities and other public service bodies provide sanitary products at no cost.

The Scottish Government already has a scheme for free period products across schools, colleges and universities. Some public bodies also provide free products voluntarily. Do you have any experience of such schemes? If so, do they seem to you to be effective?

SCVO, since 2018, provides free sanitary products to all staff, tenants and visitors to our buildings throughout Scotland in offices located across Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness.[iv]

SCVO also helped to facilitate Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE) launch a pilot project which explored options for providing access to free sanitary products that provided choice and respected the recipient’s dignity. During the project, which was rolled out in a number of third sector organisations, regeneration areas and educational settings, over 1,000 participants received products.[v]

Furthermore, SCVO has a diverse and wide-ranging membership, many of whom are currently delivering services offering free sanitary products.

The Bill would allow the Scottish Government to require organisations other than schools and colleges to provide free period products. Do you support this? If so, what other organisations should be legally made to provide free products?

SCVO’s membership base are supportive of this approach and would encourage Scottish Government to extend the proposed arrangements to all public bodies related to the Scottish Government and health and social care system, as well as private employers. ‘Period poverty’ is not an experience which is unique to just students. It is a challenge faced by many in Scotland. Therefore, the scope of the scheme and legislation should be extended to include any person in Scotland who faces barriers in accessing sanitary products.

Our members have suggested that healthcare institutions such as hospitals and general practitioner surgeries are key locations which could play a driving role in the provision of free sanitary products.[vi][vii][viii][ix] Elsewhere, community pharmacies are taking an ever more increasing role in the delivery of routine healthcare. Thus, given their accessible locations, they may act as appropriate locations to facilitate the dissemination of free sanitary products. Using healthcare settings would also support people to engage with other health promotion materials which may benefit them. This joined up approach directly mirrors the Scottish Government’s integration ambitions and may indirectly play a role in improving Scotland’s future health.

Additionally, we have also been made aware from our member base that many community hubs are beginning to offer free sanitary products through funding from local authorities. This funding is not a legal requirement, which means that access to products can vary depending on which local authority is delivering community services such as leisure centres, libraries or youth clubs. SCVO members are supportive of the Scottish Government’s previous commitment of £4 million to provide the facilities in the aforementioned locations with a proportion of funding to deliver free sanitary products. However, in our engagement SCVO members have made it clear that they are keen to see that this is a scheme which is required by law.6789Furthermore, in order to fully implement the ambitions of this scheme, significantly more funding will be required to ensure it is rolled out on a wider basis, and avoid any regional variation.

Many places of work, such as SCVO offices, throughout Scotland already provide free sanitary products, and play a pivotal part in alleviating ‘period poverty’. Free sanitary products in the workplace should be the norm. These products should be as widely available as toilet paper. The provision of sanitary products by employers would also help work towards overcoming and ending workplace-based period stigma. Survey research conducted earlier this year found that approximately half of all workers who experience periods stated that there is noticeable stigma related to the issue at the organisation they work for.[x] Alarmingly, three quarters of those surveyed noted that they feel it is necessary to hide sanitary products at work.10Many workplaces already outline their commitments to the health and wellbeing of their employees through the provision of schemes such as cycle-to-work, the provision of free sanitary products is no different to these initiatives. Addressing stigma around periods and ensuring no worker is impacted by ‘period poverty’ would normalise periods and address workplace misconceptions. 

The Bill requires the setting up of a scheme for making free period products available. Do you have any views on what elements a scheme should include? In answering this question, you might want to take account of factors such as the importance of privacy, accessibility, and value for money and the environment.

There are a number of fundamental elements that are key to making the proposed scheme a success, most of which are noted above.

In relation to privacy, SCVO members believe that by making products available for free, either through dispensers in toilets or using a discreet card scheme, then it would help to reduce embarrassment felt by individuals.6789 This aspect of the scheme is crucial to the uptake of free sanitary products and would go some way in reducing the unnecessary shame which can be felt by young people regarding their period. The Bill’s proposal that products should be made available in toilets or other relevant discreet locations rather than, for example, a main reception area would ensure this privacy.

Furthermore, as outlined throughout our response, accessibility will be instrumental to the scheme alleviating the burden of ‘period poverty’. SCVO members are supportive of the Bill’s intention to address accessibility challenges such as availability within remote and/or rural areas of the country, where there may be limited locations in which products could be made available. This also includes ensuring those within non-rural/remote areas who have mobility or caring responsibilities have access to products at no expense. The Bill proposes that postal delivery should be available, and delivery only charged to those whose circumstances should allow them to collect products in person from an appropriate location which our members support. Additionally, the scheme should allow for the collection of products by one person on behalf of another, specifically for those with mobility issues or other reasonable circumstances which prohibit them from picking up products in person.

Whilst privacy and accessibility are crucial components of the scheme, there also must be an aspect of choice in the provision of products. A range of products should be made available as a part of the scheme. Those that require these products have a diverse range of needs, which varies from person to person, with some people only able to use certain products. In order for the scheme to reach its full potential then there must be variety in the provision of available products. This choice will help to meet and fulfil the needs of as many people as possible.

With regards to the environmental impact, SCVO’s membership has highlighted that the introduction of a universal scheme providing free products would provide the opportunity to promote and raise awareness of reusable period products and encourage uptake of environmentally friendly sanitary products. However, duty towards the environment should not come at the expense of depriving those that would benefit from access to free sanitary products and therefore the product options provided as part of the scheme should not be limited based on subsequent environmental consequences.

Members of SCVO are aware that there will be significant cost implications involved with the introduction of a universal scheme, however, it is important to note that from a public health and gender perspective, managing menstruation safely requires the use of sanitary products which cannot be normally accessed without cost to the individual. Health related products are already freely made available through the National Health Service, therefore it should be the obligation of other public bodies and organisations to extend this provision of healthcare to sanitary products. Menstruation and the related financial implications in managing periods is an inequality which is associated with gender, and can result in people being unable to work, attend school, college or university or carry out their day-to-day activities.

The provision of a universal scheme would highlight and cement Scotland’s commitment to ensuring gender equality. Furthermore, the financial memorandum which accompanies the Bill makes the case that a number of cost-savings will be recognised through the provision of free sanitary products.

Research suggests that one in 10 girls in the UK are unable to afford sanitary products and 49% have missed school because of their period.[xi] Ease of access to such products is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of students, according the Education Institute of Scotland, and has an impact on attendance and absences. This is due to the fact that learners who have free access to sanitary products are less likely to be distracted, anxious or uncomfortable when they have their periods.[xii] Whilst the financial memorandum does state that it is “difficult to quantify” the financial impact, it is likely that the provision of free products will minimise absences, and the consequent impact on attainment levels, as well as have an effect on the amount of support educational institutes have to provide, thus freeing up resource for other areas and therefore allowing students and staff to focus on learning and teaching.

Furthermore, those who lack frequent access to sanitary products through ‘period poverty’ are more likely to use a product for longer than is recommended by the manufacturer. Therefore, they put themselves at a higher risk of experiencing Toxic Shock Syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition. Whilst the incidence of Toxic Shock Syndrome is rare, access to free sanitary products would make a difference in ensuring that the incidence of the syndrome remains extremely low.

About us

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is the national body representing the third sector. There are over 45,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland involving around 138,000 paid staff and approximately 1.3 million volunteers. The sector manages an income of £5.3 billion.

SCVO works in partnership with the third sector in Scotland to advance our shared values and interests. We have over 2,000 members who range from individuals and grassroots groups, to Scotland-wide organisations and intermediary bodies.

As the only inclusive representative umbrella organisation for the sector SCVO:

  • has the largest Scotland-wide membership from the sector – our 1,900 members include charities, community groups, social enterprises and voluntary organisations of all shapes and sizes
  • our governance and membership structures are democratic and accountable – with an elected board and policy committee from the sector, we are managed by the sector, for the sector
  • brings together organisations and networks connecting across the whole of Scotland
  • SCVO works to support people to take voluntary action to help themselves and others, and to bring about social change.
  • Further details about SCVO can be found at scvo.org.uk.

[i] Period poverty impact on the economic empowerment of women (2019) K. Tull, Available: https://storage.googleapis.com/scvo-cms/media/5c6e87b8ed915d4a32cf063a/period.pdf

[ii] Break the barriers: Girls’ Experiences of Menstruation in the UK (2018). Plan International. Available: https://plan-uk.org/file/plan-uk-break-the-barriers-report-032018pdf/download?token=Fs-HYP3v

[iii] Bloody Shocking Stats… It’s time for change (2019) Bloody Big brunch. Available: https://www.bloodybigbrunch.com/bloodybigblog/2019/2/20/these-stats-are-bloody-shocking-heres-how-you-can-make-a-difference

[iv] National charity body leads the way in fighting period poverty (2018) Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. Available: https://scvo.org.uk/p/25403/2018/05/31/national-charity-body-leads-the-way-in-fighting-period-poverty

[v] ‘Improving access to sanitary products’ CFINE’s Pilot Project Report (2018) Community Food Initiatives North East. Available: https://www.cfine.org/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=4d2a6706-d8cf-4ef2-b140-9eb972381590

[vi] Proposed Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill organisational response (2018) Trussell Trust. Available: https://storage.googleapis.com/scvo-cms/uploads/1/0/2/8/102887122/organisation_response_1696_69239403_redacted.pdf

[vii] Proposed Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill organisational response (2018) Scottish Youth Parliament. Available: https://storage.googleapis.com/scvo-cms/uploads/1/0/2/8/102887122/organisation_response_1462_69215789_redacted.pdf

[viii] Proposed Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill organisational response (2018) Shelter Scotland. Available: https://storage.googleapis.com/scvo-cms/uploads/1/0/2/8/102887122/organisation_response_1361_69127395_redacted.pdf

[ix] Proposed Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill organisational response (2019) Girlguiding Scotland. Available: https://storage.googleapis.com/scvo-cms/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Girlguiding-Scotland-Period-poverty-consultation-response-for-web-1.pdf

[x] Overcoming period stigma in the workplace (2019) Developing People Globally. Available: https://www.dpgplc.co.uk/2019/05/overcoming-period-stigma-in-the-workplace/

[xi]  Plan International UK’s research on period poverty and stigma (2017) Plan International UK. Available: https://plan-uk.org/media-centre/plan-international-uks-research-on-period-poverty-and-stigma

[xii] Distributing period products in schools and colleges: Good practice guidance (2017) Educational Institute of Scotland. Available: https://storage.googleapis.com/scvo-cms/Content/images/period%20poverty/Distributing.pdf