MSPs reject Bill aimed at ending period poverty

MSPs dismissed the bill blaming lack of clarity over the total cost of such a scheme.

A Holyrood committee has rejected a bid to change the law and make Scotland the first country to provide free period products for all who need them.

Five of the seven MSPs on the Local Government and Communities Committee agreed there was “no clarity” about the total cost of such a scheme.

Labour MSP Monica Lennon, whose member’s Bill sets out to establish a universal right of access to products such as sanitary towels and tampons, had estimated this would be £9.7m a year, but the Scottish Government said the cost could be as high as £24m.

SNP and Conservative MSPs on the committee voted against her Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, with only the Green and Labour members supporting it.

Ms Lennon said: “It will be a bitter blow to everyone who has campaigned for this legislation to see SNP and Tory MSPs reject the principles of a Bill that will end period poverty.

“The committee accepted that many women and girls are still being referred to food banks for essential period products, despite the Scottish Government’s welcome initiatives to support period dignity in schools, colleges and universities and other community venues.

“My Bill would build on existing schemes, close these gaps and deliver period dignity for all by protecting the right to access period products in law.”

The Bill will come before all MSPs in Holyrood later in Feburary, with Ms Lennon urging them to consider the evidence from women’s groups, anti-poverty charities and others who backed her proposals.

The Labour MSP said: “This is not the time to be timid and MSPs should listen carefully to campaigners and the evidence and back the Bill later this month.”

In its report the committee acknowledged the Bill was backed by 96% of those who took part in a consultation last year.

The MSPs accepted that “for a minority, affording or accessing period products is a problem in Scotland which needs to be addressed”.

But they said a majority of the committee was “concerned, against a background of limited resources, about the large disparity between the costs”.

They added: “There is no clarity on what the total figure might be, nor how much it may grow year on year, dependent on uptake.”

They voiced concerns that the legislation would “impose a duty on as yet unidentified public bodies which would have a cost but would not compel the Scottish Government to fund it”.

A majority of MSPs were “not convinced by the evidence presented that a universal rather than a targeted approach is preferable”.

The Scottish Government already funds free period products in a number of settings, including schools, universities and colleges.

But Carolyn Fox-Mackay, policy manager at Girlguiding Scotland, said: “We’re extremely disappointed to learn that the Local Government and Communities Committee have decided not to support the Free Period Products Bill.

“Girlguiding Scotland has long been a campaigner to end period poverty and the stigma surrounding periods.

“Period products aren’t a luxury, they’re an essential product and no-one should miss out on opportunities, face isolation or embarrassment simply because they can’t afford them.”

Committee convener James Dornan said: “A difficulty in affording and accessing period products affects people across Scotland every day, and the committee is aware of the need to reduce stigma around menstruation.

“We applaud Monica Lennon for all her efforts in bringing this Bill before the Scottish Parliament and helping to raise awareness of these issues.

“The committee also commends the work undertaken by local authorities, the third sector, and grassroots groups to promote and deliver existing schemes and welcomes the positive response to the Government’s targeted provision of free products.

“However, the committee has concerns about the Bill as drafted, including a lack of clarity over how much a universal scheme would cost, what a scheme would look like and the work required by ministers to implement it.

“This is clearly a serious and important issue and the Scottish Government should ensure that current schemes are accessible to everyone who needs them.

“But for the majority of the committee it is clear that the legislation before us is not the answer.”

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