18th Aug, 2019

Council leaders block 'period poverty' debate on free sanitary products for schools and adults

Felix Nobes 7th Feb, 2019 Updated: 13th Feb, 2019

CONTROLLING Conservative councillors refused to debate a motion to introduce free sanitary products across Solihull’s schools and colleges to combat ‘period poverty’.

The proposal had been put forward by Green Party councillor Ben Groom who says it is a scandal that many UK schoolgirls are not able to afford sanitary protection like tampons and pads.

But councillors, at a full council meeting on Tuesday (February 5), did not even consider the possibility of the measure in schools and approve the introduction of a ‘dignity bags’ scheme.

Coun Groom today said: “I am very disappointed, although not surprised, that the Conservatives chose to use their majority to block any debate about this issue at council.

“If ever there was something we should talk about in public more rather than less, it’s this.

“I will be pressing on with this and putting it forward again to the relevant cabinet member, where I hope we can find a way forward – my proposal is cheap and effective and would make a real difference.

“It’s a real shame for the one in 10 girls who cannot afford sanitary protection in Solihull, who will be left waiting while the tedious political nonsense over this simple suggestion is resolved.”

But Leader of the council, Bob Sleigh, had told the meeting it would be considered by council at a later date.

He told the meeting: “I don’t run the world, I actually do run Solihull along with all the members of this chamber therefore I am proposing referral to the cabinet member for children, education and skills for consideration.”

The Scottish government introduced the measure across the nation’s schools, colleges and universities last August in a bid to tackle the issue.

The dignity bags project was established by Chepstow Town Council and ‘period poverty’ charity Red Box.

It encourages the public to donate sanitary products in branded boxes for redistribution to women and girls in need.

The products are left in charity boxes in prominent places such as pharmacies and libraries.

The motion will also consider whether the council’s cabinet member for education, Councillor Ken Meeson, should lobby government to scrap VAT on female hygiene products, and use the money generated from VAT to help fund free sanitary products for girls and women in need.

Coun Groom says the issue affects the poorest women and girls, who may lose a significant number of days of schooling because of it.

The motion also refers to a Plan International UK survey which found that one in 10 girls is unable to afford sanitary products.

And more than half of girls said they would rather be bullied at school than talk to their parents about periods.

The first UK summit on ending period poverty was held by Bristol City Council this month.

Leader of Solihull Council, Councillor Bob Sleigh OBE, said: “We have absolutely not refused to discuss the issue of ‘period poverty’. At Full Council on Tuesday I was very clear to elected members that it will be referred to Councillor Meeson, Cabinet Member for Children, Education and Skills, to understand the position in Solihull and subsequently consider the Council’s response.”

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