Parents are making a choice between putting food on the table and paying for sanitary products, according to a petition signed by hundreds of women.
Discovering this problem prompted a mother of two teenage girls, Sam Whittaker, to start a petition along with Denise Friend and other members of Labour Women, calling for free sanitary products in schools.
She presented a 1,520-signature petition to Brighton and Hove City Council calling for free sanitary products to be provided in schools as part of the council’s health and wellbeing strategy.
Ms Whittaker said: “In some parts of our city, parents are having to make very real choices between putting food on the table or something else.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the cruel impact austerity is having within communities across our city and the impact the resulting poverty has on mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
“Parents will often go without food for themselves in order to feed their children.
“Do we want a society where everyone has equal opportunity to flourish, where we operate with compassion and empathy or one which focuses on just looking after ourselves?”
She said that it was an issue of equality, adding: “We wouldn’t expect our children to go to school without access to basic hygiene products such as hand soap and toilet paper so why is access to sanitary products any different?”
Labour councillor Emma Daniel, who chairs the council’s neighbourhoods, inclusion, communities and equalities committee, said that the charity Plan International had carried out a survey about the issue.
It found that more than a third of the 136 girls from the south east had used alternatives as they could not afford sanitary products. It said: 35 per cent had used toilet roll; four per cent had used socks; and two per cent had used newspaper.
Fourteen girls and young women from Brighton and Hove were part of the sample, with half experiencing an affordability issue.
Cllr Daniel said that the council’s Personal Health, Social and Economic Education Team had promoted the Red Box Projec to all local secondary schools this year.
The project collects donated period products and passes them on to schools.
So far Fairlight Primary, Hove Park, Blatchington Mill, Dorothy Stringer, Saltdean Primary, Longhill High and Hangleton Primary are all using the service.
Cllr Daniel praised Red Box for its work and said: “Fairlight Primary had a good response to the recent year 5 talk about periods.
“Red Box gave them a ‘period products teen starter pack’ each and the deputy head told the Red Box volunteers that it created a good discussion around periods and what different products are available to use.”
Cllr Vanessa Brown, who speaks for the opposition Conservatives on the Children, Young People and Skills Committee, said: “It is sensible these are made available in schools.
“I’ve heard of teachers providing them themselves sensitively as some girls are embarrassed if they think others are going to know.”
Councillor Alex Phillips, who speaks for the Greens on the Children, Young People and Skills Committee, welcomed the scheme.
She said: “This is long overdue. The consequences are severe. It is simply not good enough that girls and young women are missing school each month because of their period.”
The petition was presented to the council on Thursday (July 19).
It is due to be discussed by the council’s neighbourhoods, inclusion, communities and equalities committee on Monday, October 8.
The petition, which is now closed, can be found here.
The meeting, at Hove Town Hall, will be open to the public.
Sarah Booker-Lewis is the Local Democracy Reporter for Brighton & Hove.