Sanitary products are taxed as a ‘non-essential, luxury item’, unlike ‘alcoholic jellies’ and ‘exotic meats’. This ‘tampon tax’ means that women are denied access to basic hygiene products every day.

Islington was last year named ‘the worst place to be a woman in Britain’, owing to the gender pay gap, female life expectancy, the proportion of older women living alone, and women’s unemployment. Adding in the tampon tax, the challenge to achieve equality in the borough remains.

What’s the government doing?

David Cameron announced in 2016 that “Britain will be able to have a zero rate for sanitary products, meaning the end of the tampon tax”. After Brexit complications, the amendment will only come into force next month at the earliest. Until then, all VAT revenue from the ‘tampon tax’ has been earmarked for women’s charities. This led to Chancellor Philip Hammond’s announcement – on International Women’s Day – that £12 million has been raised so far.

Charities take the lead

Yet this use of taxed income to plug the gaps, which the tax itself partly created, is perhaps self-defeating. Unfortunately, the levy remains, and the statistics refuse to fall. Islington-based charity Streets Kitchen have taken matters into their own hands. They’re raising money to provide free sanitary products for those in need. In Aberdeen, sanitary pads and tampons are donated by the government to women and girls from low income households. For now, no other scheme exists in the rest of the UK.

Islington’s ‘Tricky Period Scheme’, which launched this month, stocks the Islington Central Library with products that members of the public can order as needed. Provided this pilot scheme goes well, the charity hopes to extend it to other libraries in the borough soon. Sophie Marsh, a volunteer at Streets Kitchen, said: “Period products are not cheap, and we want to make sure that every woman has access to them. They are necessary items that provide dignity and comfort. We want to challenge the stigma that continues to exist around a normal bodily function.”

Supporting London’s homeless

Since its establishment in 2013, Streets Kitchen has built up a network of outreach services for London’s homeless. These include a regular support service for women which runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well as a soup kitchen throughout the week. Marsh said: “So far, we have received donations from members of the public and supporters of Streets Kitchen. The response has been very positive.”

Ways to tackle period poverty:

Yet, much work remains to be done if the issue is to near any resolution. “We really want to continue spreading the word so that people do not have to fork out for such a vital item” Marsh explains. “Many women already have to live under so much financial strain. This is one way in which we can aim to ease that.”