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No free tampons in school 'adds stress to families'

2023-06-01 18:13:25 source:CBS News author:Press center 1 click:947order

The money schools get from the Department of Education to provide free period products has been cut by more than 40%.

The department said that the fall was "due to a combination of budget reductions and the level of need being lower than expected in 2022-23".

The annual funding for education was cut in the recent budget from Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.

Some schemes aimed at disadvantaged pupils have been stopped to save money.

Period poverty is when those on low incomes cannot afford or access suitable period products.

Jackie Bartley, the principal of St Genevieve's High School in Belfast, told BBC News NI the fall in funding would put "more demand on families".

The girls school, which has more than 1,000 pupils, has received £4,935 for 2023-24 - about £3,000 less than the previous year.

"We make sure we provide period products for all of our girls when needed and they're freely available within the school," said Ms Bartley.

"It probably means that there's going to be more demand on families now to provide them themselves because we just won't be able to access as many of those.

"We have over 1,000 girls in this school so you can imagine the demand for those products would be high.

"We actually had a lot of our senior leadership team who'd campaigned for this on behalf of the school."

Ellen Taylor, vice-chair of the Secondary Students' Union, said the cut to free period products was the latest in a serious of cutbacks targeting "essential" student welfare services.

"Within the most deprived schools there will be many, many students who absolutely depend on the free period products because let's not forget how expensive they are," she told the BBC's Talkback programme.

"They are extortionate, especially for students who are making minimum wage and maybe having to buy them themselves. That's out of reach for a lot of students."

Ms Taylor added: "What's more, if you forget a period product, it's embarrassing to go and ask your friend for one and it's just so much easier to have that accessible and available whenever you need it."

The Department of Education is trying to save money everywhere apart from in the actual running of schools.

A scheme to provide free books to babies was scrapped even though it only cost £75,000 - a modest sum within the overall budget.

The provision of free period products in schools requires a tiny fraction of the education budget but has also been targeted for cuts.

It has not been withdrawn entirely but back when the Stormont assembly was running period poverty was taken seriously.

There was even a wider law passed that anybody who needed free period products would get them.

We expect more and more of these cuts in coming weeks and months and there is a lot of nervousness in schools about what might be coming down the track.

Since 2016, the Menstruation Matters Belfast campaign group has been providing period packs to people in need, including homeless women and families on low incomes.

It founder, Katrina McDonnell, told Talkback that the education cuts were "frustrating" and would increase pressure on schools and their female students.

She added that voluntary groups like hers "will be severely impacted by this because there will be a reliance on us to meet that need".

"We are unpaid volunteers who will now have to give donations to schools and to young people, when we really wanted to pull away from that provision with the passing of recent legislation and also due to the period dignity scheme," Ms McDonnell said.

"So it just feels like we were really moving forward and now we're kind of going back again to reliance on community and voluntary groups."

The period products scheme for schools in Northern Ireland also includes training for teachers in primary and post-primary schools to support them in discussing issues around periods with their pupils.

In a statement, Mark McTaggart of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation said the 40% funding cut "will put further stress on our poorer families and on the health and wellbeing of these young women that the scheme was designed to help".

The department has published the amounts of money individual schools will receive to provide free period products in 2023-24.

The allocations were calculated based on pupil numbers and the number of children entitled to free school meals in each school.

But the total funding has been cut to about £243,000, which is more than 40% lower than the £413,786 provided to schools in 2022-23.

Funding for a three-year scheme to address "period dignity" in schools was approved by the Stormont executive in 2021.

It was separate from - but related to - a law to provide free period products to everyone in Northern Ireland who needed them.

Previous research by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment suggested that periods should be talked about more often in schools "to remove the stigma around periods and period poverty."

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