Derbyshire council rejects plans to have free women’s sanitary products in its offices and public buildings

Erewash Borough Council deputy leader Wayne Major.
Erewash Borough Council deputy leader Wayne Major.

Councillors in a Derbyshire borough have rejected plans to have free women’s sanitary products in its offices and public buildings to tackle ‘period poverty’.

The move, brought forward by Erewash Borough Council’s Labour group last night (Thursday, October 10), was quashed by the Conservative administration.

This, Tory councillors said, was largely due to the focus on borough council staff instead of specifically seeking to assist vulnerable members of the public.

They also said that charities were better placed to carry out work to tackle period poverty – where some women with a low income cannot afford to pay for sanitary products – and had already been given funds by the council to do so.

Coun Wayne Major, the council’s deputy leader, said: “Labour seems to have lost touch with the community, some 100,000 of them, if it thinks that the biggest burning social issue is period poverty.”

Coun Denise Mellors, the Labour group leader, said that sanitary products are often an expensive monthly cost that some people cannot afford.

She said that young girls and women are often resorting to using alternative items such as socks or tissues to either save costs or because they do not have the money.

Coun Mellors said: “It (period poverty) is something we have to talk about and there is a stigma about it. It is just a natural bodily function.

“I want sanitary products to be as easy to access as toilet roll. Nobody should have to experience period poverty.”

Coun Diane Fletcher (Lab) said: “As a 13-year-old girl, I was embarrassed about my period. I used to get my younger brother, who was eight, to go and get products from the shop.

“I would try to economise on my periods, if I would take out a tampon and it was not full I would feel as if I wasted money.

“It would then sometimes be too full and leak, and this can also be a health risk through toxic shock.

“People should not be ashamed, not scrimping to save costs or not leaving their house.”

The Labour motion had said: “Erewash Borough Council should be leading by example and showing other employers that even in these difficult times of austerity, we realise that we may have some employees experiencing in-work poverty and that there is a real need to support what is a very natural occurrence for most women.”

But Coun Carol Hart, leader of the authority, said: “What would the public think if we started providing products for our staff? Not very much I don’t think.

“Staff I asked today said they would be embarrassed if we did this. Our staff are reasonably well-paid.

“There are people in our community who do have period poverty, it is those people we should be helping.

“There is also no idea of how much this would cost or where the funding would come from.”

And Coun Kewal Singh Athwal (Con) said: “I fail to see why this has been brought to this chamber. I fail to see why this would be needed in our area.

“I firmly believe that our staff are most certainly not in poverty and don’t need this.”

Meanwhile, Coun John Frudd (Lab) said: “We don’t know the circumstances of people in this authority. It could happen to anyone, they could be in difficult financial situations.

“They should have access to these products in their place of work, there are also plenty of people who come to our town halls who only have the clothes they are wearing.

“I don’t think this is unreasonable at all.”

Coun Gerri Hickton (Con) said: “It is an important issue, but I don’t think that it is for our staff, who are reasonably well-paid, but thank you for bringing this to our attention.”

Coun Major said: “I can’t accept that our staff are in poverty. There is no evidence that our staff are struggling with this.

“I think that we should give money to the charities who can go and find the people who need this.”

Coun Margaret Griffiths (Lab) said: “People who access our services are in dire straits, people are embarrassed about this. We could at least have a little bin of products in each of our toilets. It would be a small step but could make a big difference.”

Coun Fletcher said: “I am disappointed that you don’t see the picture I see, but we will come back with this.”