Period Poverty

Women and Equalities – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd February 2018.

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Photo of Paul Williams Paul Williams Labour, Stockton South 12:00 am, 22nd February 2018

What steps the Government are taking to tackle period poverty.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

No girl or woman should be held back because of her gender or her background. This is why the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has identified period poverty as a priority for the tampon tax fund, which, in 2018 and 2019, totals £15 million. We have encouraged bids to address this issue.

Photo of Paul Williams Paul Williams Labour, Stockton South

In Stockton South and across Teesside, residents led a “free period” campaign, which persuaded local authorities to provide free sanitary protection for women and girls living in poverty. Will the Minister meet me to work out how that might be replicated in other parts of the country?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am delighted to hear that Stockton-on-Tees Council has started that innovative project, and, in fairness to our Scottish colleagues, the same is happening in Aberdeen as well. I look forward very much to hearing the results of that pilot, and I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss them.

Photo of Karen Lee Karen Lee Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Fire)

I was pleased to hear that the student union in Lincoln sells sanitary products at cost before VAT. Will the Minister acknowledge that sanitary products are not a luxury, but a necessity? My question is: will she accelerate the timetable for removing the tampon tax—yes, or no?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am also glad that our county university is leading the way on this, but the hon. Lady knows that we are constrained by our membership of the European Union.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The hon. Lady shakes her head, but I am afraid that that is the law. We have lowered the rate to the lowest possible level—5%—and, what is more, we are using that money specifically for funds that help women and girls. We are waiting for the moment that we leave the European Union. I know that my Treasury colleagues are looking at exactly that issue.

Photo of Paula Sherriff Paula Sherriff Shadow Minister (Mental Health and Social Care), Shadow Minister (Mental Health)

It is a stain on our society that there are young girls and women who are experiencing period poverty, and, frankly, it is tragic that our Government appear to have such ambivalence towards period poverty, although I welcome the latest announcement. Will the Minister agree to work with me on an innovative scheme, which is currently in its infancy, that I am running with a local supermarket to see how we can work towards the elimination of period poverty?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this issue, because it is important. We know that we do not have a substantial basis of evidence on period poverty, but we are trying to gather that evidence, particularly with schools. We do want to address the issue of the VAT charged on tampons and other sanitary products, and the moment that we leave the European Union we can do so. In the meantime, we are using the money raised by that low rate of VAT to help women and girls, particularly using those funds that deal with violence against women and girls. We have a general programme with 12 sub-themes, including period poverty. I very much hope that that money will be of good use.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

Last week, the Minister asked us to remember the suffragettes chained to the grilles. I ask the Minister today to remember those women chained to the house because of period poverty, those women chained to poor housing because of universal credit, and those women chained to an abusive partner because of the closure of refuges. Will the Minister work with me to develop and implement policies to help tackle those issues?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The Government are led, if I may say, by a female Prime Minister—I just mention that as a small detail because Labour members have never managed to entrust the leadership of their party to a woman. We are proud of our record of helping women, which is precisely why we are bringing forward a ground-breaking piece of legislation this year to tackle domestic abuse, which will help both the victims of domestic abuse and their children. It is one measure in a long programme that we are carrying out to try to help women—not just women who are victims of crime, but women in the economy. We have more women in the workplace than ever before, and we all know that financial independence is a key indicator when it comes to ensuring that women are not stuck in those terrible relationships that the hon. Lady has described.