One in ten teenage girls has, at some point, been unable to afford sanitary products. One in seven has had to borrow tampons or sanitary towels from a friend because they couldn’t afford to buy their own.
That’s according to a 2017 study by children’s charity, Plan International UK, which asked 1,000 14 to 21-year-olds about their experiences of menstruation.
Period poverty is a thing. But there have been a few dodgy statistics flying around recently.
Do periods cost the average woman £500 a year?
The Labour MP, Danielle Rowley, told the House of Commons in a debate about period poverty this week:
“We know that the average cost of a period in the UK over a year is £500″
She was widely praised for talking openly about being on her period, breaking parliamentary taboo in the process.
Period poverty is undoubtedly a serious issue for girls and women on low incomes.
But that £500 a year figure made the FactCheck team a little curious – if true, that would mean the average woman spends about £40 a month on managing their menstruation.
A spokesperson for Ms Rowley confirmed that she was referring to a 2015 survey by a company called VoucherCodesPro.co.uk. The survey asked 2,134 women aged 16 to 45 how much they spent on their period each month.
Respondents said they spent about £13 a month on sanitary towels, tampons, and/or menstrual cups, a further £8 on new underwear, and £4.50 on pain relief.
But the figure also included spending on chocolate, sweets, crisps (£8.50) plus £7 on “other” items, including magazines, toiletries and DVDs.
The company concluded that, taking all this into account, the average woman spends £492 a year on her period.
The problem is, that’s very unlikely to reflect the experiences of people suffering from period poverty. By definition, these are people on low incomes who will probably not consider monthly spending on DVDs, chocolates and sweets a necessity to help them manage their period.
The charity Bloody Good Period provides menstrual supplies to food banks, asylum centres and “those who can’t afford them.” They estimate that the average lifetime cost of having a period is about £4,800.
Assuming the average woman has 450 periods in a lifetime (this is the assumption that the VoucherCodesPro survey used), that works out at about £128 a year, or just under £11 a period.
But what about the cost of heavy periods?
There are, allegedly, some women who are blessed with a one-day, hardly-feel-it period, who presumably breeze through the month in a range of white linen trousers and miniskirts.
But if you don’t find yourself in that fortunate category, you’ll know that there is a whole range of ways that periods can be painful, embarrassing and expensive.
Danielle Rowley told us some of the ways things can go wrong – and what it can mean for your bank balance.
- Rowley says: “First of all I buy three different sizes of tampons… Sometimes my flow is so heavy that I need to have the bigger sized tampons and wear a day time pad as well. For night time I buy night pads, because I prefer to feel that I can sleep peacefully.”
- Medical conditions play a role. Rowley points out that conditions including endometriosis (where tissue like the kind that usually lines the womb is found outside the uterus in areas like the ovaries) can cause very heavy periods.
- Pain levels vary, and sometimes mean women opt for higher-strength medication, which is often more expensive than own-brand products.
Are we missing the point?
You can buy a pack of 20 Tampax for £1.90, a box of 14 super plus extra Lil-Lets for £1.50, and a pack of 20 Tesco own-brand tampons for £0.95.
Even if you got through two or three boxes a month, that would cost less than £5 a period.
Some would argue that the period poverty debate shouldn’t focus on how much the average woman spends, or is forced to spend. The real problem is that some girls and women cannot afford to spend even that relatively small amount of money on sanitary products.
The claim that the average woman spends £500 a year on managing their period is somewhat misleading. It includes other costs that most people would not consider necessities – for example, buying DVDs, chocolates and sweets.
A more realistic estimate of the average cost of periods is about £128 a year, or £10 a month.
Period poverty is very much a thing: one in ten teenage girls has been unable to afford tampons or sanitary towels.
Either way, many would argue that regardless of how much the average woman spends, the real issue is that for the very poorest girls and women, even a few pounds a month is unaffordable.