Council reconsiders tampon tax policy following pressure from opposition

From left to right: Miss Myfanwy Cooper, Lara Fordham, Suffolk county councillor Jack Abbott, Evie H

From left to right: Miss Myfanwy Cooper, Lara Fordham, Suffolk county councillor Jack Abbott, Evie Harrison, Ccouncillor Helen Armitage and Alex Mayer MEP Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL LABOUR GROUP - Credit: Suffolk County Council Labour Gr

Suffolk County Council’s Tory administration has launched a bid to tackle period poverty – just weeks after it failed to commit cash to the cause.

The council announced today it is running a full audit of services designed to help women and girls who struggle to afford sanitary items.

It comes shortly after the council’s Labour group put forward a motion calling for a £15,000 investment in tampons and sanitary towels at all local authority schools – specifically for girls who cannot afford them.

But an amendment tabled by the Conservative group was approved instead, saying its public health team would focus on promoting existing projects which tackle period poverty such as Lowestoft Rising and a pilot by Suffolk Libraries.

The amendment failed to pledge any funding, which led to five councillors voting against the proposals and 16 abstaining.

However, councillor James Reeder, cabinet member for health, has now requested a full audit of services to find out where there are gaps and assess how provision can be improved.

He said the council “fully acknowledges there is a need to tackle the issue of period poverty,” which is “closely linked to mental health and wellbeing”.

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Work has already begun on scoping current provision across the county and a report will be published in the New Year, making recommendations to meet the identified need, based on the findings.

Helen Armitage, opposition spokesperson for health and adult care, called the audit “encouraging” – but criticised the delay in action, accusing the Tories of ‘playing politics’.

“It is encouraging that the council is belatedly taking period poverty seriously after I proposed a motion on this very issue back in October,” she said.

“It is a real shame that the Tories originally decided to play politics, failing to come and talk to me or my colleagues about the motion or about any changes they wanted to make, despite having advance sight of our proposals.

“A number of girls and young women in our county have and will continue to suffer because of this and it is worth noting that Suffolk County Council have not yet pledged any new money so I will continue to push for a proper commitment to deliver firm and decisive plans to end period poverty in Suffolk once the audit is complete.

“There may be a little guilt or an attempt to rewrite history at play here but, whatever the motive, it is to be welcomed that they have decided to listen and take some action.

“I sincerely hope that, in future, the Tories grow up, recognise the impact their decisions have on people’s lives and start engaging properly with the issues at hand.”

Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw, Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group spokesperson for children’s services, added: “We all felt intensely disappointed last month when Suffolk County Council refused to commit funding to tackling period poverty.

“I’m obviously glad that the Conservative administration is finally taking the issue of period poverty seriously, and I am cautiously hopeful that this review will result in proper support and funding for those amazing voluntary organisations that are currently providing free sanitary products.

“They cannot provide that service all on their own, and it is our responsibility as county councillors to do all we can to end period poverty in Suffolk.”

In order to identify any gaps in provision, the audit aims to get a full picture of existing charitable and voluntary schemes operating in Suffolk to help women and girls who struggle to afford sanitary items – such as the sceme operated by Lowestoft Rising.

The #FreePeriod scheme was launched in Summer 2018 in some high schools in Lowestoft. Lowestoft Rising, Access Community Trust and Lowestoft Food bank, led by the Lowestoft Community Church, have since offered all high schools in Waveney the opportunity to take part.

Suffolk Libraries has also recently launched the ‘Pride and Periods’ service which offers tampons and pads on a no questions asked basis.

A range of sanitary items is available from ten libraries in the county, and there are plans to offer the service in more libraries soon.

Commenting on the decision to run a full audit of services, Mr Reeder said: “Suffolk County Council’s cabinet fully acknowledges the need to respond to the challenge of period poverty, which is closely linked to mental health and wellbeing.

“The council commissions Suffolk Libraries as wellbeing hubs, to support the community in many ways, including the ‘Pride and Periods’ service. The library provides a safe and neutral space, accessible to women and girls of all backgrounds.

“There are many schemes in Suffolk which support women and girls to access free sanitary products: all food banks offer them on request, most secondary schools have products available for girls on an ad-hoc basis and some primary schools also provide some items. All of these have been set up independently over time and each locality has its own arrangements.

“A recent overview of the current picture in Suffolk has shown that homeless women are particularly at risk of period poverty as they are unlikely to access community schemes running in Suffolk. Another vulnerable group are girls not in schools.

“This is why, to get a full understanding of ‘Period Poverty’ throughout Suffolk, the council is carrying out an audit on provision available in the county with the aim of understanding and identifying where there are gaps in supply and how distribution can be improved.”