The Government needs to step up to end hygiene poverty. Until then here’s how you can help
Today, I would like to draw attention to an often undiscussed and ignored issue: hygiene poverty. Some people think this is a made up problem, but it hugely impacts many across the country. Those affected can often feel ashamed, but it really isn’t their fault. It occurs when you are unable to afford everyday cleaning and personal grooming products.
These are items that most of us take for granted, like soap, toilet roll and toothpaste. I remember when I sat as a magistrate from 2011 to 2015 until I was elected (and I am still a dormant magistrate) being surprised and confused because people would steal handbags and wallets, and then when Universal Credit was introduced in 2013 they started stealing deodorant and basic food and hygiene necessities.
It was a sad, sad day for me in court having to judge people for taking products they need to survive in society. There were no provisions in place for these people. In fact I was continually told that I was not a social worker and I should stop trying to change the system, which was a strange thing to tell someone whose very driver is to do just that.
Many low income or unwaged people are forced into the desperate and unenviable choice of paying their rent, heating up their home, or buying food. Once they have done that, buying hygiene products may no longer be an option. Take a minute to imagine what that must be like, how desperate a situation it must be. Imagine not being able to afford shampoo, deodorant, a new toothbrush, or sanitary products. Put yourself in the shoes of someone not able to change their baby’s nappy when necessary because they don’t have access to any new ones.
I’ve spoken to women on the streets who have had to use socks in place of a sanitary towel, and girls who have been forced to miss school because they didn’t have the money to buy provisions. I’ve heard first-hand how even admitting you’re in this position can strip you of your dignity and self-confidence. It’s no surprise that some would rather steal than ask for help. We live in the fifth richest country in the world, so there is no reason why someone should have to go through such financial hardship. Over 14 million people in the UK live in poverty – that is one fifth of the population.
At least two thirds of those people work. On top of that, the Trussell Trust have said people stop buying toiletries long before they visit a food bank. It makes me so sad. It is frankly a disgrace that period poverty – or any form of hygiene poverty – exists in the UK Once the furlough system ends, people will find it even harder to make ends meet and we will unfortunately see poverty rise. So even more people may not be able to afford the basic products they need to keep themselves and their families clean.
Covid-19 may have masked this particular poverty, but as the lockdown eases, I expect we’ll see more people in need. This issue is close to my heart, and I have campaigned for years to put an end to period poverty. I developed a Party policy, based on Scotland’s own led by Monica Lennon MSP, to provide free sanitary products in secondary schools, homeless shelters and airports.
This is still Labour Party policy and will be implemented within the first 100 days of a Labour government. It is frankly a disgrace that period poverty – or any form of hygiene poverty – exists here. It is a great shame that the Government is not taking the bold action we need to combat this, especially given the current circumstances.
One organisation that is stepping up and doing good work is The Hygiene Bank. They are a wonderful charity that run a network of banks, collecting new, unused, in-date toiletries, beauty and personal care products, and household cleaning essentials. I am proud of the work they are doing – as we should all be – even if it is shameful that they have to exist in the first place. And I am proud to be supporting Metro.co.uk’s fundraising campaign for them.
To raise vital funds, the site has organised a sponsored 26-mile hike across London. MORE: It will take place on Saturday 19 September, 2020, to tie in with National Hygiene Week and will be starting in North London, going on to explore 10 of London’s hidden peaks. I know for many this will be a great chance to get out into the great outdoors after a long time inside.
Knowing that it is all for a fantastic cause, supporting people affected by hygiene poverty, is just so exciting and inspiring. I’m looking forward to it! I encourage everyone to join me in doing all you can to support this great cause, to help eradicate hygiene poverty from society and give people back the dignity they deserve.
Our aim is simple – to raise as much money as possible for charity with YOUR help. This year we have chosen to support The Hygiene Bank, a vital charity that helps distribute hygiene products for those most in need. For more information about this year’s hike, which is organised by Charity Challenge and taking place on Saturday 19 September, 2020, click here. Please note all applications need to be in by July 20, 2020.