Less than half of the funding allocated to Scotland’s councils in the run-up to the government’s flagship Period Products Act was spent on the provision of products such as tampons and sanitary towels, The Ferret can reveal.
Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products free by law when the act came into force in 2022.
But our analysis of spending, obtained after a freedom of information request, shows that local authorities have so far heavily underspent the funds provided to them by the Scottish Government. Some councils used less than two per cent of their funding on making period products available to the public.
The government gave enough funding last year for councils to offer a full-year supply of period products to over 100,000 people, but The Ferret found that products sufficient to cover the needs of just 43,000 were provided.
The findings show a varied picture across Scotland, with some council areas spending as little as 4 pence per eligible person on period products.
Councils have been legally obligated to provide free products to the public since August 2022 but many started doing this before the legal deadline. The government has provided £22m to local authorities since 2018 to buy products and make them available to those who need them.
Our analysis covers the period from September 2021, when the Act’s guidance was published, to December 2022, when our FOI request was made.
In response to The Ferret’s findings, campaigners said more work was needed to ensure the effectiveness of the policy and that it was reaching the most vulnerable. The Scottish Government said it was for local authorities to decide what works best in individual areas.
Our study shows that Glasgow City Council is paid £620,000 a year to provide menstrual products in schools and the community, but spent only £110,000 in the period from September 2021 to December 2022.
Dundee City Council receives £143,000 a year to supply and distribute period products but spent just £34,000 on products in the fifteen-month period.
In the fifteen-month period up to December 2022, Highland Council spent only eight per cent (£17,500) of its £209,000 annual allowance on period products.
One of Scotland’s smallest local authorities, the Clackmannanshire Council was allocated £46,000 last year. Since September 2021, the council distributed 400 packs of pads and 96 boxes of tampons in the community and spent £800 – just 7p for every target resident – on the provision.
Stirling Council spent 4p per person (£800) out of their £83,000 funding in the same period to supply products to the public. £15,500 was used for provision in schools.
Council funding under the act is based on government estimates of how many products an average person uses in a year and how many people are likely to access free products.
While covering administrative costs is included in the funding, the bulk of the award (an estimated 71 per cent) is for the costs of products distributed to the public in the community, with about 15 per cent allocated for product provision in schools. Last year, £3.7m was awarded to councils that have disclosed their spending.
Under the act, councils are required to provide as many products as a person needs “reasonably easily” and in a way that respects their dignity. There should be a “reasonable choice” of products available. The MyPeriod website and PickUpMyPeriod app are available for users to find their nearest pick-up point.
Dr Jennifer Martin, a global menstrual health campaigner and founder of the Pandemic Periods project, said The Ferret’s findings showed the policy is not yet reaching those who need it most. Further action is needed to truly eradicate period poverty, she claimed.
“Programmes must protect the vulnerable population’s menstrual health by addressing all areas that result in period poverty: access to free products; water, sanitation and hygiene facilities; comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education; and environments free from menstrual stigma and discrimination in all settings, including the workplace, education, and leisure,” she said.
“This can be an effective policy, but it shouldn’t just be up to local authorities, who are very under-resourced and facing lots of different challenges, to deliver it. This needs to involve public health because menstrual health is a public health and human rights issue.”
Dr Martin noted she had personally been unable to access free period products in Scotland on multiple occasions.
“Of course policy takes time to bed in, but we’re two years into this and people still can’t get products when we need them,” she added. “We’re not reaching those in our communities who we need to protect and those people need that protection now.”
Monica Lennon MSP, who has campaigned on period dignity and introduced the Period Products Bill to parliament, said that she was encouraged by the steps taken so far but that further work was needed.
“I have been hugely impressed with and grateful to the public bodies who have made the Period Products Act a reality. I am especially proud of all the work that has been done by councils and schools to ensure that free period products are widely available,” Lennon said.
“Changing the law was a huge milestone in achieving period dignity for all, but there is still so much work to be done. For example, we need to increase awareness of pick-up points and promote the app.
“Period dignity campaigners worked tirelessly with me to bring this scheme to life and whilst teething issues are expected, I have every confidence that this law will be effective in helping to eradicate period poverty.”
Highland and Clackmannanshire councils did not respond to requests for comment.
A Glasgow City Council spokesperson said the underspend was due to many venues being in lockdown and that unused funds have been carried over to the next year.
"Currently we have products in over 300 venues including educational establishments in the city and we are expanding,” they said. “We will be making products available to a number of third sector organisations across the city, following a successful pilot. Products will also be made available to a number of Health and Social Care Partnerships sites and food banks."
A Dundee City Council spokesperson noted the expenditure of £34,000 did not include distribution, promotion or administration. They said their budget allocation and uptake had each increased this year.
“This has resulted in over four times the number of products being made available as at November 2022, compared to the overall total for 2021/22,” they said. “The allocation for 2022/23 will have been fully utilised this year, with a request for additional funding also made in December 2022, increasing our total funding to cover all costs to £247,000.”
A Stirling Council spokesperson said a contract had been awarded to a supplier in January of this year and that further engagement with community groups was underway.
“In the meantime, spend of the allocated funding will continue to ensure all existing locations that provide period products remain stocked with supplies,” they said. “Investment per head is expected to increase as we introduce additional locations and online provision of period products this coming year.”
Results of local public consultations show the majority of respondents would prefer to access free products by home delivery. However, a third of local authorities, including Glasgow and Edinburgh, do not currently offer this option.
A spokesperson for East Renfrewshire Council, where home delivery is not available, said funding cannot be used for packaging and delivery in all circumstances and that a general postal service was therefore not viable.
The Ferret’s analysis found that limited home deliveries mean half of all menstruating people in Scotland can only access free products by picking them up from a venue advertised by the local authority, or on the website or app.
There are currently more than 2,000 venues across Scotland stocked with sanitary products, including council-run public buildings such as libraries, museums, community centres, public toilets and sports venues.
Several councils have made arrangements to provide free products in additional high-footfall venues, such as medical centres, dental surgeries, and bus and ferry stations.
All councils offer disposable sanitary pads and tampons and most offer reusable products, such as menstrual cups, reusable pads and period pants.
A Scottish Government spokesperson told The Ferret it had allocated over £6.3m to local authorities, colleges and universities in 2022/23 to ensure products are provided free of charge.
“It is for individual local authorities and education providers to decide what works best in their area, delivering to respond to local needs and circumstances,” they said.
“Our Monitoring and Evaluation Strategy sets out the data used to allocate funding and how we will use evidence and analysis to understand the effectiveness of current funding allocations, alongside an independent qualitative evaluation.”
Photo thanks to Pexels and Karolina Grabowska
This Ferret story is part of our Health Gap project, funded by the European Journalism Centre, through the Solutions Journalism Accelerator. The fund is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
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