This Member’s Bill was introduced by Monica Lennon MSP. It proposes different ways to make period products (like sanitary pads and tampons) available for free.
If the Bill passes, it would mean:
- the Scottish Government must set up a scheme to make period products free for people through councils and other public bodies
- Schools, colleges and universities must make a range of period products available for free in their toilets
- the government will have the power to tell other public bodies to make period products freely available in their buildings
Scottish Government scheme
How the scheme could work is not set out in detail. But people may have to register for it and then collect their products or have them delivered.
This scheme will include free products for those with no fixed address or homeless people.
You can find out more in the document prepared on behalf of Monica Lennon MSP that explains the Bill.
Why the Bill was created
Since the recession of 2008, poverty levels have been rising in Scotland. Many people are finding it difficult to afford basic items, including period products.
Research shows 1 in 7 girls surveyed in the UK had struggled to afford period products. 1 in 10 had been unable to afford products.
Not having period products can lead to people missing education, work or recreation. There also remains a stigma associated with having periods, and people can feel embarrassed to ask for products.
Using period products for too long or using unsuitable alternatives can lead to infections and health issues.
Young people often do not have access to their own money and may struggle to access period products. Also women are more likely than men to be at risk of domestic abuse and financial control. This can impact the money they have to spend on essentials like period products.
You can find out more in the document prepared on behalf of Monica Lennon MSP that explains the Bill.
Where do laws come from?
The Scottish Parliament can make decisions about many things like:
- agriculture and fisheries
- education and training
- health and social services
- justice and policing
- local government
- some aspects of tax and social security
These are 'devolved matters'.
Laws that are decided by the Scottish Parliament come from:
The Member in charge of this Bill, Monica Lennon MSP, sends the Bill and related documents to the Parliament.
Related information on the Bill
Why the Bill is being proposed (Policy Memorandum)
Explanation of the Bill (Explanatory Notes)
How much the Bill is likely to cost (Financial Memorandum)
Opinions on whether the Parliament has the power to make the law (Statements on Legislative Competence)
Information on the powers the Bill gives the Scottish Government and others (Delegated Powers Memorandum)
Stage 1 - General principles
Committees examine the Bill. Then MSPs vote on whether it should continue to Stage 2.
Who examined the Bill
Each Bill is examined by a 'lead committee'. This is the committee that has the subject of the Bill in its remit.
It looks at everything to do with the Bill.
Other committees may look at certain parts of the Bill if it covers subjects they deal with.
Who spoke to the lead committee about the Bill
First meeting transcript
Agenda item 2 is evidence from two panels on the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill. I welcome Monica Lennon, who has introduced this member’s bill. She might wish to ask questions of the witnesses in each panel, once committee members are finished with their questions.
For today’s first panel, I welcome Nicola Bristow, who is the community and grants co-ordinator at Plan International UK; Eilidh Dickson, who is the policy and parliamentary manager at Engender; Erin Campbell, who is the member of the Scottish Youth Parliament for Midlothian North and Musselburgh, and deputy convener of the SYP’s equality and human rights committee; Siobhan McCready, who is equalities stand-down officer for Scotland at Unite the union; and Erin Slaven, who is co-founder of the “On the ball” campaign.
Thank you all for attending and for your written submissions. We will move straight to questions from members.
Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)
It is great to see everybody here today. Thank you for the evidence that you submitted in advance. My question is about the extent of period poverty in Scotland. Some of the written submissions provide quite bald statistics about the number of women and girls who experience period poverty. I would like a reality check on the extent of the issue and what it means for young women.
I do not know who would like to start, because you have all given some evidence on that.
Nicola Bristow (Plan International UK)
In 2017, we surveyed more than 1,000 young women, and the broad statistic that we found, which has been widely used, was that one in 10 had struggled with affording period products. We know from work that we have done in England—we also have projects in Scotland—that a lot of localised information and data are missing. Councils that have done surveys have found variance.
There is need: the broad understanding is that the problem exists. When we work at local grass-roots level, we find that the products are being used and education is being accessed. The reporting reflects the findings of our survey.
Erin Campbell (Scottish Youth Parliament)
In the Scottish Youth Parliament consultation before the bill was introduced, 80 per cent of respondents aged 12 to 25 agreed that free sanitary products should be available to everyone. We asked people why they thought that. One thing that really stuck with me was someone saying that because buying sanitary products is very expensive they had gone through times when they were forced to use just a rag, rather than sanitary products.
The SYP agrees that everyone who menstruates deserves dignity; unfortunately, they are not all getting that. Young people also highlighted that people at school are at a particular disadvantage because the lack of flexibility in the school day means that they often cannot nip out to get period products, especially when their period comes unexpectedly.
The SYP agrees that there is a large problem.
Are you suggesting that if someone’s period comes on suddenly, they could not leave the class to get products, even though they would not have to say what it was for?
The issue is not necessarily that people are not allowed to leave the class. Many would just choose not to leave, perhaps due to embarrassment or stigma. That is a large part of the problem.
How would the bill change that?
Having free sanitary products in public buildings—especially in schools—would normalise menstruation. It is a normal process that people go through and cannot change. If it were normal to be able to nip out and get period products, a lot of people would be much less embarrassed by it.
Eilidh Dickson (Engender)
I add that we do not have a lot of localised statistics about period poverty, but we have an incredible wealth of knowledge about women’s poverty generally. It is important that we understand the phrase “period poverty” as a useful device to enable us to intervene in the specific problem of lack of access. For example, we know that one parent in 10 has sent a child to school knowing that they do not have with them the period products that they need.
We also know that 20 per cent of women experience poverty. This comes down to lack of income and the requirement on women to make very difficult choices about what they will spend the bare minimum provision that they have on. For example, will they choose to feed themselves or to feed their families? We know that women are poverty managers within their families, so might they be going without period products in order to ensure that their families have the sustenance that they need to get through the day?
We have anecdotal evidence from a project in Newcastle that young people—including young men—are going there to collect products from the free period product scheme to take home for their families. We are finding that younger people have become a bit of a shock absorber. Availability of products in schools means that they can collect the products for their families. Broader provision will therefore tackle a much bigger issue.
Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)
When we talk about period poverty, we focus on the word “poverty”, which suggests that a person does not have much money and/or that items cost a lot—or too much. I do not think that I have seen mentioned in any evidence the cost of products or what a woman or girl might have to pay per month. I know that there will be a range. Could you tell us a bit about the actual costs?
Erin Slaven (On the Ball)
The cost varies—it depends on the brand. However, from our experience from the campaign that we run, the issue is not affordability, but accessibility. For people who are in severe poverty or are on the living wage, period products are necessities. They are as essential as toilet roll and soap and should, as a general principle, be accessible to anybody who needs them.
Siobhan McCready (Unite)
The general principle is that period products should be free. From talking to members of Unite and working with people in the Unite community who are largely unwaged or on low incomes, the cost of period products for the average family is anywhere between £10 and £20 for the monthly shop—depending on the size of the family. That is a lot of money to a person who is already on a very low income.
Obviously, one can get cheaper products, but sometimes cheaper products are not as helpful; they do not serve the purpose for which they are needed. We find that a lot of women are making the choice not to buy period products for themselves because they are looking after their girls. They are buying for them and making do for themselves, or are simply not buying the products and choosing to buy food instead. It is a real problem.
The issue is also about people having an informed choice about the products that they use. We found that through the “Let’s talk. Period” project, in which people received education about reusable products, plastic-free disposable products and other disposable products. People were making choices that were based not just on cost: we acknowledge that people should have the option to make informed choices.
We have a lot of questions to follow up on accessibility, which Erin Slaven mentioned, and the question of what people need. They might need or want completely different types of products.
I will go back to the point that Siobhan McCready made about cost and the terminology that we are using, because the issue is framed as “period poverty”. There is the wider issue of how that relates to people’s dignity and whether it is the right phrase to use. Do we need the word “poverty” in there in order to shock people out of complacency? I would like to explore the extent to which you think that “period poverty” is the right phrase. Does it help your agenda? Unite argued that “period dignity” would be better. I am interested to hear a range of views on the best way to describe the issue that you want to tackle. What is the right phrase to use for people who experience lack of access to something that most of us take for granted? What phrase would help us to address the issue?
Siobhan McCready might want to start, because she has challenged use of the term “period poverty”.
As a union, Unite deals with women who can work in heavily male-dominated industries such as construction, in which there might not be access to a toilet, let alone one that is comfortable to use for a woman who finds herself suddenly having to go to the toilet. For the union, the issue is very much about employers providing dignity for women workers, which is something that we are campaigning on.
Although we totally support the notion that we are talking about a fundamental human rights issue for people on limited incomes, we wanted to highlight dignity as another layer, because when our members reported back, they told us that what was important was quick access to products when they need them, and being able to change their clothing and so on in a situation in which employers are sometimes pretty unforgiving.
For us, it was a case of raising awareness of the situations that women find themselves in—in particular, women in workplaces that women were not traditionally in. Also, many women are now working later on into their lives: the menopause brings into play another slate of related issues.
I absolutely get why the phrase “period poverty” has been used. It gives people a bit of a shock to realise that a lot of women are making quite undignified choices; they find that idea uncomfortable and deeply unpleasant. For us, the term “period poverty” resonates. As somebody who was working in the community until this week, when I started this job, I know that the pilots that have been rolled out in the community are about raising awareness of the situations that some people are living in at the moment, in which they are having to make horrible choices.
The “period poverty” tag resonates with people—people get it—and it starts a dialogue about the much wider issue of poverty. That is really helpful, but the union is focused on dignity. We want to improve access and reduce stigma. For us, it is a dual approach.
I will let Eilidh Dickson in shortly, but I point out that we have a lot to cover and have only another hour or so, because another panel is coming in. It is not the case that everybody has to answer every question, so if we can have slightly shorter answers, that will help us to get through. I do not want us to miss out on important points.
As I said in my first answer, the phrase “period poverty” is a useful device: we should not ignore the fact that we are talking about poverty. The fact that we are talking about women being unable even to afford £15 a month for their families is quite an indictment of the state of women’s budgets and the choices that they have to make. The issue is about dignity and poverty, but it is also about equality and sending out the message that the natural fact of being a woman should be taken care of by our employers and our public services in the same way that the fact of being a man is.
It is also important that we do not lose sight of the fact that some women do not have control over the choices about how money is spent within their family. We know that financial abuse is a serious part of domestic abuse and of how domestic abuse is understood, but control of reproduction is also something that we see.
In addition, we should not forget that many women are simply caught short; they might plan to take stuff with them but forget to do so. It is a question of ensuring that women have dignity when moving around in the world.10:00
Our research uncovered the fact that access to products is one factor, but also that a lack of consistent education about bodies is significant. There is huge stigma, and there is a taboo in society. We call that situation the toxic trio of issues that sit around period poverty.
One of the surveys that we did talked to girls and other menstruators about stigma and taboo, and it found that one in five was being teased or bullied at school about their period, which was quite shocking. People not leaving the classroom could have much to do with the lack of normalisation in society. Access is very important, and it is also important to focus on poverty, but there is a range of issues around menstruation that can be supported and covered. Universal access and exposure to products in the same way as we are exposed to toilet paper would go a long way towards solving some of the bigger issues.
Thank you for that. It is useful because we do not have to agree with use of the term—it is about the discussion that it takes us into.
Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)
I note that the term “period poverty” does not appear anywhere in the bill. It is a background policy issue.
I want to explore one of the tensions in the bill. It is designed to develop a scheme for universal provision by making provision mandatory in certain places. I note that, as part of that, ministers may make provisions whereby individuals may get products.
The financial memorandum envisages take-up at 5 per cent, 10 per cent and 20 per cent, with the figures focused on those who are living in relative poverty. Is it important to have a universal scheme whereby everyone who needs it has the easiest possible access, or should we focus either on those who are in relative poverty and need, or on certain places? Some of your evidence suggests that where you find toilet paper, you should also find period products. There are various ways in which the provisions could be implemented, and the bill gives ministers complete freedom in that regard, but I am interested in your views.
Speaking from experience, we believe that the scheme should be universal and that the focus should be on people who are really struggling. Our campaign is based on football grounds, so we can only speak from that standpoint. We feel that the products should be made available in public spaces for everyone.
Not everybody who struggles to access period products would identify as being in poverty; Eilidh Dickson talked about people being caught short. I did not get a chance to come in on that question, but I would say that “period dignity” is probably the best term to use.
The scheme has to be universal because the products are a necessity. I know that they are often taxed as a luxury but they are essential and we believe that everybody should have access to them, which may mean focusing initially on those who are in relative poverty and then rolling the scheme out further. That would be reasonable.
From my experience of working in the community, I know that the services that are already out there are not abused. People take the products when they need them. Most women still go and buy their own, but the services mean that there is a dignified choice for people who are caught short or who need to use those services because they are struggling. The majority of women will probably still go and buy things, so I do not think there is a huge cost implication as a result of everyone suddenly going to their local community centre or wherever to access products. The reality is that the scheme will give a lot of women a dignified choice.
The Scottish Youth Parliament believes that provision of free period products should be universal. I stress that we believe that they should be available in all public bathrooms, not just women’s bathrooms. They should be available in men’s bathrooms and any gender-neutral toilet facilities.
One of SYP’s key values is inclusivity, so we want to make sure that transgender and non-binary people are also included. That relates to the point of making provision universal. As has been said, at the end of the day, people will take only what they need and it is a big misconception that the service will be abused. That is why we are also against a registration scheme or a card-based scheme. We do not want to put up additional barriers that would prevent people from accessing what they need.
On that point, you have probably read the bill, so you will appreciate that it actually says that the products should not be in toilets that are for use only by males. I presume that you disagree with that.
On a personal level, yes, I disagree. SYP policy is that people who menstruate should be given dignity. We also have a policy for the creation of gender-neutral toilets, so we really believe in including trans and non-binary people in that experience.
I suppose that what I am trying to get at is the witnesses’ view of the importance of the provisions in section 3. Those provisions are not mandatory—ministers do not need to include them in any scheme, so under the bill they could proceed with a scheme that focuses on making period products freely available in a wide range of places, such as public buildings. How important are the provisions in section 3? There are cost implications for what is proposed, which are highlighted in the bill’s financial memorandum. The expectation is that the uptake of the provisions in section 3 would be focused on those in relative poverty and that, hence, uptake would be a maximum of 20 per cent.
We have to acknowledge that there is a range of different access needs and that this is about making it as easy as possible for people who menstruate to access the products that they need in a variety of ways, such as via postal delivery or in public bathrooms. To add to Erin Campbell’s point about having products in men’s bathrooms, we should not forget that men will have women at home who menstruate and who might not be able to get out and about to access the products that they need. We should therefore not forget that some men might need to access the products on behalf of somebody else. People will have a host of different reasons when trying to access products. They might need just the one product because they have not brought it with them that day, or it might be more systemic and be about accessing products for their family.
Engender’s written evidence talks about the c:card scheme for condoms. Are you basically saying that you do not approve of having that kind of scheme for period products?
Our concern would be that such a system would be used to move away from some of the universal provision schemes that we have seen, particularly if budgets became narrower. Some people will want to access products via a postal service or vouchers, and we should not ignore that. Research from Plan International UK, for example, demonstrates that the most successful schemes are those that are developed with the users. We noted the evidence from the Aberdeen pilot scheme, which suggested that most of the women who accessed the products preferred that approach to getting a voucher or money. We are not ruling out a c:card-type scheme, but it would be a real tragedy if such a scheme was used as a justification for not providing the universal access that has made, and is making, such a difference.
There seems to be a bit of confusion here about whether the bill is a period poverty bill or a period dignity bill and whether the bill should be universal or should focus on those who need its provisions most. It would be very difficult to work out the potential financial implications of those different approaches. Kenny Gibson wants to ask a question along those lines.
Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Eilidh Dickson said that it costs women £15 to £20 a month, or about £200 a year, for period products. The Scottish Government is spending £5.5 million in the current financial year to make products available. If the cost to a woman is £200 per year, that means that there is provision for only 25,000 to 30,000 women. However, we are talking about up to 20 per cent of women potentially requiring products. Are the resources that are being put into the bill adequate? If not, what should actually be put in?
We are also looking at the range of products that are available. What kind of products are we talking about? People say that a variety of products should be made available, but I think there should be more detail about that, given the obvious cost implications. For example, should there be just one type of product in a toilet, or should there be three types, or five? This goes to the nub of the bill. It is one thing to pass a bill, but if it is to be effectively delivered for the people we want it to be delivered for, it has to be adequately resourced. Does anyone on the panel want to comment on those issues?
Before anyone comments, I would like Annabelle Ewing to come in.
Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
I have listened carefully to all the comments and I understand the desire very well; I am just trying to pick through some of the practicalities. The point was well made by, I think, Siobhan McCready that whatever scheme is ultimately in place, a lot of women will not see it as being for them, for whatever reason. That begs the question what kind of scheme legislators are seeking to provide. Obviously, public resources are very tight and we want to ensure that the women who most need the scheme get it.
If we are going to have a scheme with a universal approach, together with all the delivery mechanisms that will need to be put in place, which we have still to discuss, mechanisms will also need to be put in place for the enforcement of the right. That all costs money. However, if we are saying that, within certain parameters, a certain percentage of women will be the main recipients of the scheme—and rightly so—we are putting a whole mechanism in place for a different outcome. That, too, costs a lot of money.
I want to get to the heart of what it is we are seeking to do here. I do not think that the financial memorandum really stacks up, if we take into account the actual cost. That is another issue. What are we seeking to do here? We all have very worthy aims, but we need to ensure that we come up with a piece of legislation that is practical and affordable.
To answer Mr Gibson’s question about what is available, we do not want to overcomplicate things. On a much smaller scale, we get football clubs to make sanitary towels and tampons available, and that is it. We can go into environmentally friendly options, menstrual cups and so on, but for us, the main aim is to make sure that people can access products—full stop. After that, we can look at making environmentally friendly products available.
On Annabelle Ewing’s point, I can speak only about public places and from my own experience, or even anecdotally. When I was at university—I graduated earlier this year—the Scottish Government’s plans for higher education were just being rolled out and there was an excess of products in the toilets. I have photographs of that on my phone. We are talking about easily 20 large boxes of products lying in the toilets. In the summer, when we were working with youth groups in the east end and in Royston, it was the same—there was an excess of products. We saw their back rooms and they had boxes upon boxes that the Government had given them. If distribution was a wee bit more efficient and proportionate, that could save money.
On the cost, the figure I quoted of between £10 and £20 is for somebody who goes to Tesco, Asda or wherever and buys a good-quality product. The reality is that the stuff we have been buying for the community is cheaper—it was bought in bulk and unbranded. In pure economic terms, the more you buy, the cheaper you are going to get things. That will also rule out people lifting things, because people tend to like brand names. The reality is that economics have a part to play here: you get what you pay for, I suppose. Given the product’s very nature, people will come in and use it because they really need it. They need to access it and they are using it.
In some of the communities I talk to, there is an issue about targeting, with things not necessarily being done in an accessible way, but there is also an issue about stigma, dignity, embarrassment and almost a feeling of worth—that you are not worthy of helping yourself to the products. I know that, in my community, we had to actively encourage women to come in, because they were embarrassed about asking for basic products.
There is a job of work to be done around building awareness and ensuring that people access the help that is already out there, let alone increasing the number of people who do so. I do not think that you will be inundated by thousands of women expecting a certain brand of product to be delivered to them the next day. That is not the case. We are talking about dignity, access to products and reducing stigma.10:15
There is a need to work with the local experts who work in communities. For example, there is a mobile library service that delivers products in rural communities, because they have identified who is in need and have developed relationships and trust in the community. Needs assessments can be done at a local level, and those local experts will know best how to serve those communities in the most efficient way with the resources that are available, because that is what they are already doing.
Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
The Scottish Government has measures in place at present, and we are having this discussion today because of the inadequacy and failure of those measures. If they were effective, they would be playing a bigger role in the process. However, because that does not seem to be happening, we find ourselves considering putting legislation in place. Does anyone have any views on that?
As I said in my previous answer, at present there is a focus on higher education. That means that there is a class issue at play, because, as we know, a lot of working-class people do not go to university. We are providing products for people who get into higher education, but what about everyone else? We think that the provision should be expanded. Our primary gripe about the existing measures is that the distribution is not proportionate and could be improved on. I do not think that that is the Government’s fault, because it maybe wanted to roll provision out quickly and did not look at it in a manner that would have ensured that it was proportionate.
Regardless of what happens with the bill, we are concerned that the idea of period poverty or period dignity should not be commercialised. In the past year or so, we have seen that, as the discourse around period poverty has increased, brands have capitalised on it. For example, Always put out a message that, for every new follower that it gets on Instagram, it will donate a tampon. The company should just donate that tampon anyway. It is important that the provision of the products is not seen as a brand deal. It should be visible but discreet, rather than being a big commercial thing. It is a sensitive issue, and the approach should be kept simple—no fouls, no fuss.
Could you catch my attention the next time you want to speak, Erin? It is just that you have spoken first the past couple of times, and I want to make sure that everyone gets a chance to come in.
They were very good interventions, right enough.
From consultation that we have done with young people, we have found that they are being let down by the current legislation. They raised with us that there are few or no sustainable products available among those that are provided. I do not know whether you know this, but our current campaign is about the environment, which is very important to young people right now.
A lot of our members who participated in our workshop said that the products that were provided in schools were often of poor quality. Obviously, not everyone experiences menstruation in the same way, and they found that there was not a wide enough variety of products.
In my local area, we created period poverty packs to cover the Christmas break, which consisted of enough sanitary products for one cycle. A lot of people came up to us to say that that was helpful, because they were getting to a point at which they could not afford these products. That goes to show that the problem is more common than you might think. A lot of people cannot afford these products and are being let down by the current scheme. It is not always the people who you would necessarily think would be unable to afford the products that find themselves in that situation.
The focus on places of education was largely because of the evidence base. You can understand why the Scottish Government targeted its initial steps at addressing period poverty in that space. We need more localised data and more data about other groups of women, particularly women for whom English is not their first language. Once we have had a year or two of the Scottish Government’s existing provision, we will be able to better assess where the gaps are and respond to them.
The bill establishes a right for anyone who menstruates to be able to access the products that they need when they need them. That need will differ. Sometimes it will involve only one tampon, which will not cost very much, and sometimes it will involve providing products for the whole family. The monetary costs will differ, but we must not forget that there is also a human cost when we do not tackle the issue of the provision of unsuitable period products—a cost to the wellbeing of women and girls and a cost to their health, through toxic shock syndrome from using the wrong product for far too long because they have had to make what they are using last longer than it is meant to. We should not forget that in these discussions.
The learning from the “Let’s Talk. Period” project that we have been running has shown that, although the scheme has been successful in providing products in mainstream education settings, some of the areas of biggest need—and the biggest successes—were in places such as mother and baby units and sheltered accommodation, where there where drop-in sessions to inform people about products. It was found that, before the sessions, there was just a box in the cupboard, and no one had any education or support, so no one was using the products. However, when people were given the skills and knowledge to use menstrual cups, for example, they did so. There is now a whole group of young mums who only use menstrual cups as a result of those sessions, and support each other to do so. There is a bigger issue there, relating to long-term savings from using such products rather than disposables. There is a range of solutions that have different costs at different times, but the important point is that simply putting boxes of products into places is not always going to work. There might be a different up-front cost, but the issue is not simply about the cost of the products because, in the long term, the non-disposable products will be more efficient.
Some of the best evidence that we have for what works comes from working in community centres, when the local communities have been made aware that such products are there and can be accessed. In our area, we have food banks and clothes banks and there is also provision of nappies. We have found that, where things are accessible somewhere, people find their own way there in order to access them. We have also had situations in which young carers have come in and taken stuff home to their mum, for example, who might not be able to get out of the house, for a variety of reasons.
That model is definitely working. We are in the early days of the approach, and all things take time, but, from my experience in my local area, the model is working and the information is getting out to the right people, through the food banks and so on, and people are becoming aware that the products are available at their community centres. That is a way of getting the information to people that ensures that there is dignity in the process and reduces the stigma. Women in the younger generation feel that stigma less but, for women in my generation—let alone men—it is an uncomfortable thing to talk about.
There is a job of work to be done, but the approach is working. I would not like you to think that the scheme as it stands is not working, because it absolutely is.
You have identified many areas in which the scheme has the potential to be successful. However, the issue also comes down to quality and cost, which have been big considerations in the process.
You have identified the need for the legislation, and have said that it will give us an opportunity to take on board many of the areas that you have identified. The crux of the matter seems to be that the products have been delivered in the wrong place or they have not been of a good enough quality or have been the wrong ones. There are opportunities there.
You talked about the commercialisation of this area. That is a crucially important consideration and we must think about how we manage that, because there is a potential for that to become a problem if the bill goes through.
Following on from the response to Mr Stewart’s question, it sounds to me like the scheme that is being rolled out across Scotland, funded by the Scottish Government, is largely working and is getting better, and that the products are becoming more widely available in public buildings. If we accept that—I do not know whether you do—is there a need to legislate?
Yes, because the programme could be stopped tomorrow. If it is in legislation, it has to be continued, reviewed and improved. Legislation is key to the policy. It should not be run just on good will. What we are doing is about improving women’s health and giving them dignity, and making this country a better and fairer one for us all. I feel that this could be landmark legislation for Scotland. We all want better communities and a better way of life and, without legislation, what is to stop the programme being stopped tomorrow?
That was a bit clumsy, but you know what I mean.
You are trying to get to the point at which it is normal for these products to be available, as is the case with toilet paper—you would not expect there to be no toilet paper in a public toilet; it should be widely available. However, there is no law that requires toilet paper to be provided in toilets. You do not need a law to ensure that that happens; it is just done. If it can become normal for these products to become available, why do you need a law?
Erin Slaven can answer that first, because she put her hand up.
Forgive me, Mr Simpson, but, although toilet roll is provided in toilets without there being a law that says that it should be, we are not expected to pay for it. Sometimes, there might not be toilet roll available, but we definitely do not need to pay for it. Period products are available in a lot of toilets, but we have to pay for them. That is not what this legislation is about. It is about making them free, whether that involves products being donated or being available from vending machines free at the point of use. There definitely is a need for legislation.
Earlier, we were talking about the products being provided in places of education and community centres, and I have experience of making them available at football grounds. I and the other two girls who work with me—Mikaela and Orlaith—have been doing this for nearly two years, and we absolutely adore it. It is the best use of our time, but we cannot do it for ever. We are a grass-roots, non-funded group—it is just three of us doing it in our spare time. I am sure that there are loads of other wee activist groups that are doing similar work with gig venues and other groups in the community. For us, our project was a means to an end, and the end was legislation, because the free provision of sanitary products should eventually be the norm. We work from the bottom up, so we work with fans to make the change, and that is where our focus has been. We want to keep this grass-roots movement going, but it cannot go on for ever—it should not, because, at some point, the free provision of sanitary products should be the norm. I hope that, in 10 years’ time, I can say, “Back in my day, we used to have to pay for these, but it is now enshrined in legislation that they are free.”
Your campaign is to be applauded. It applies to football clubs, which are not public bodies. This legislation applies only to public bodies. You have had tremendous success—according to your submission, you have managed to get 104 clubs on board in Scotland. You did not need a law to do that; it just happened.
That is right, but I would not have been asked here if I did not have insight that was welcome. I know that football clubs are not public bodies, but I have some insight to provide and I am providing it.
I definitely think that social inclusion is just as important as education. It is amazing that people who are living in relative poverty do not have to worry about period products at school, because they are available there. However, come the weekend, those people should not be cooped up in their house; they should be able to go to the football, gigs or their local youth group and get on with their life. They should be able to experience that social inclusion, which is vital for their wellbeing.
From our perspective, the provision of free period products should be universal, in public spaces and privately owned places such as football grounds.
Mr Simpson’s suggestion seems to be that we have the option of having legislation or, on the other hand, Erin. [Laughter.] That just seems to be how it works.10:30
I want to underline the point that the bill establishes a right in primary legislation for anyone who needs period products to access them free of charge. That is sending a serious message to women and anyone who menstruates that their time and needs are just as valid as anyone else’s. We have a mountain to climb in tackling stigma, as we have touched on, so we should not shy away from the fact that there is an important step to take just in making even talking about periods a normal fact of life. It is true that the precise scheme and way of giving effect to the right might change, and the bill foresees that, but it is an important first stage in normalising periods.
At the end of the day, we absolutely need legislation for free period products. Scottish young people believe that access to free period products is a basic human right. We have SYP policy on the issue, which is based on consultation with thousands of young people across the country. One policy in particular, which was proposed by a previous MSYP in 2017, states:
“The Scottish Youth Parliament believes that access to menstrual hygiene products is a basic human right”.
That policy was passed with 99 per cent agreement, which is the highest-ever agreement to date. I think that all the witnesses would agree that not having access to menstrual products is a breach of basic human rights. As I said, everyone who menstruates deserves dignity and, at the end of the day, they are not getting that, so they need to get it through legislation and law.
I will say a little about the overreliance on donation schemes. The people paying for the products and making donations are women or others in communities. Since the issue hit the headlines, the response has been incredible and vast, but it is inconsistent. I believe that the Government has a responsibility to provide these products at a quality level. If we are working towards the sustainable development goals on gender equality and fighting against poverty, we have to take on that responsibility and accept menstruation and periods into that sphere. The bill would go a long way to doing that.
We have come a long way on the issue in the past few years but, without legislation, things could stall. We cannot just rely on good will or charity or somebody having a change of mind. We need to push through the legislation, because we need to change our whole society’s way of thinking on the issue. We expect to have our toilet paper, and we do not steal toilet paper from places and take it home. That has become perfectly natural. We need to get to a point where providing period products becomes a perfectly natural thing in society as well. Without legislation, that will not happen.
I want to ask about the voucher scheme that is mentioned in the bill. I think that Erin Campbell was at the session that I hosted at the Scottish Youth Parliament when we talked about that issue, so perhaps she can kick off on this. Pretty much all the members of the Scottish Youth Parliament at that session were against a voucher scheme. Will you explain your thoughts on that?
On the back of our consultation on the issue, we held a workshop that was attended by 24 MSYPs from across the country. We were overwhelmingly against a voucher scheme, mainly because it would make it much more difficult for young people to access the products. For example, somebody with a disability might be physically unable to access them. We believe that vouchers would create additional barriers that we do not need. If there was an online registration service, not everyone would be able to access that, because not everyone has access to the internet.
We believe that, to be as inclusive as possible, the scheme should be an opt-out rather than an opt-in service. Overall, we believe that the legislation should be universal and that everyone should have the right to access period products when they need to. That is why we are against a voucher scheme.
Basically, you are saying that people should not have to register and say, “Here I am—I need this,” and then give the Government or whoever their details. The products should just be available. Is that what others think?
The stigma around menstruation, which we have all mentioned and which has been identified in research, and the stigma that exists around poverty and people putting up their hand and saying that they are worried about it and cannot do certain things, will prevent those who are in need from accessing products.
Erin Campbell’s point—that there should be open access and that people should not feel further stigmatised by their own need—is important.
In my experience, those who most need the free products are the ones who are almost guaranteed not to ask for them. They are so embarrassed and depressed about their situation that they are the least likely to register. The bill is about changing society and culture and expectations. A registration scheme risks those who most need the products missing out, because they simply do not register.
In relation to the women who most need help, there is a risk that having to register online would exclude women for whom English is not their first language, women who are refugees and women who are homeless. Women make up a large percentage of the population that is referred to as “hidden homeless”. It might exclude those who cannot get online or those who experience control within their relationships. As far as possible, we should avoid putting barriers in place.
It sounds like everyone agrees that section 3 should go. I will follow up on that. There has been a suggestion that the scheme could have a postal element. If women cannot get to the shops or a facility, we could mail the products out to them. Would you be in favour of that?
Yes, absolutely. There are those who menstruate who might not want anyone to know that they are menstruating. Women do the vast majority of unpaid care and might not be able to balance their caring responsibilities with nipping out to queue in a pharmacy or go to a public building to access the products that they need. There are a multitude of reasons that people might want to receive the products by post.
In rural communities, people live far away from places where they can access anything.
In which case, they would have to say who they were and where they lived, so there would be an element of registration.
It depends on how we do it.
I will reiterate those points. The Scottish Youth Parliament would be in favour of a delivery and collection scheme. That would be inclusive of people who have a disability or those who, as Siobhan McCready said, live in rural areas or cannot afford public transport. We believe that anything that we can do to make the service more universal and inclusive can only be good.
I will pick up on that issue. To provide for a scheme, there would have to be a mechanism in place and people to assess eligibility. The administration of that brings a cost. That goes back to my original point, which is that, if the bill is about period poverty, the women in that position need the product more than anyone else. We have a finite amount of money to spend on things that are good. Therefore, how do we best spend that money? On the issue of delivery, it is all very well to say that a scheme is great, but it has to be paid for. It is a question of efficacy versus the overarching aim of the bill. Would you care to comment on that?
The layers of bureaucracy need to be stripped back as much as possible, so that we do not have to pay people to do things. If we make it an open and inclusive process that does not rely on all that and is not means tested or vetted, we strip away a lot of the costs involved.
I can give my own example. My daughter is severely disabled. When she was a child, she qualified for free nappies. We went to get them once; they were not good quality, so we never got them again. We just bought our own; that was a choice. We could go and use them or not; we chose not to. Had I been on a lower income, I probably would have taken them, because it would have saved us money. That was a choice. Nobody abuses that system either, and it works perfectly well. That is just one personal example.
I hear what you say, and I understand very well the point that you are making. However, I do not think that any member of the committee was suggesting that we need to guard against abuse. We do not think that there is likely to be any particular degree of abuse. Rather, we are concerned to get an efficacious scheme that gives value for money and delivers to the women who need it most. That is what informs my question.
You have to factor in the costs of girls missing out on days of education, and of women being unproductive at work because they are not feeling well or because they are not feeling particularly hygienic that day, as they have had to use something makeshift. You also have to factor in the cost of life-threatening illnesses if the wrong period product is used, or if a product is used incorrectly. There is a human cost, and there are further costs that we have to extrapolate. It is really hard to put a cost on what is essentially women’s dignity.
I know, but the Government has to come up with the money, so someone has to put a cost on it.
If we are talking about using means testing, we will not embed menstruation and women’s needs into different services. For example, someone who suffers from endometriosis or heavy menstrual bleeding will go to a general practitioner, but would not necessarily get support for their period products, because that need is not assessed by the GP as something that they can prescribe for. There are other things that we need to unpick about how menstruation is not embedded in general community needs assessments, so we cannot factor in those additional costs. It is not just about the products, it is about embedding menstruation, and the needs of women and other menstruators, in a much broader spectrum of public life. Those additional costs will start to become apparent.
This is something that needs to happen without means testing for specific access schemes. We have really strong local community organisations that will be able to help us develop and deliver efficient systems and assess need.
The other point is that this is all happening very quickly: the conversation on periods started only about five years ago. There is scope to test, pilot, make assessments and really figure out what works, so that we can make the system as efficient as possible without overburdening it at the start.
Following on from Annabelle Ewing’s question about who pays, section 8 of the bill says that the Scottish ministers
“may make such payments as they think appropriate”.
It does not mandate the Scottish ministers to pay for the scheme.
Following up Graham Simpson’s question about toilet paper not being a legal requirement in public toilets, I have just looked up the Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992 and find that it is a legal requirement—in workplaces—to provide a supply of toilet paper and, for female employees, a means of disposing of sanitary dressings.
Given that workplaces are obliged to provide toilet paper and a means of disposing of sanitary dressings, why should they not also be obliged to provide the sanitary dressings, just as part of what a workplace has to do?
In every negotiation that we now go into with employers, Unite asks for that as part of the terms and conditions, and we promote it. Many other trade unions are doing that too; the Communication Workers Union and Unison have been very active on it. Certainly, from a trade union bargaining perspective, that is what we are asking from employers. A lot of employers have been really good and are already doing it; we have seen huge progress, even just in the last year.
Should there be a statutory obligation on workplaces to provide sanitary dressings? If so, they would have to pay for them. Perhaps you do not know; that is okay.
Is it within the realms of the Scottish Government to do that?
There are no other questions from committee members, but I believe that Monica Lennon has one or two questions.
Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Thank you, convener; it is great to be back at the committee. I thank the panel. There are a couple of points that I can come back on when I give my evidence, but for now I will stick to questions.
It is apparent that there has been fantastic progress in a short space of time and a whole range of people have contributed to that, including the Scottish Government, local government and our partners in education and in the third sector. However, what I have heard today is that unmet need exists, that there is a lot of hidden poverty and that there are fundamental issues about access. You were asked about the extent of that unmet need. Given that there is variability in how schemes are being delivered, does the panel agree that a universal scheme that provides for everyone by right is the best way to meet any gaps in provision?10:45
Absolutely. There is already good practice out there, which we have seen even just over the past couple of years. Going out there, talking to people to find out what the good practice is, and rolling out a scheme on that basis and constantly reviewing it, is the way forward. However, we need one scheme that works, that takes account of the various regional and geographical issues across Scotland and that runs without a hugely administrative or overly complex process.
Is that the general consensus?
We have talked a lot about people’s daily needs—for example, being in the workplace, at the football, in school or education and being caught short. However, people also need a monthly supply of products at home. How are they accessing that? How is that need being met in communities?
Siobhan McCready correctly said earlier that a lot of that need is being met by community groups. That is certainly our experience of working in communities and youth groups in Glasgow. For example, Royston Youth Action has a supply at the front door and young people and their parents can come in and leave with what they need. However, putting that pressure on such groups is not really fair. Arrangements for access should be clearer. Products should be supplied in other public spaces, such as libraries and other local and accessible places, so that people do not have to travel far to get there. That would avoid putting too much financial or other pressure on smaller groups that are reliant on funding.
It is also worth looking at existing distribution schemes and how they work. I gave the example of mobile libraries, which is a scheme that works in rural areas. The mobile libraries access communities and are able to distribute products.
There are other distribution schemes and smaller, commercial period product providers that often focus on reusable and plastic-free products. I can go online and register and have those products delivered to me every month and pay for them with my credit card.
Distribution mechanisms exist and people are running them successfully, but it is about how to do it at scale. If you are able to assess what works, there is potential to embed period products in those schemes without overburdening smaller community groups.
At the workshop, one of our MSYPs mentioned that, particularly in sports clubs, she finds that the products that are available are often of really poor quality and hard to find, as they are not signposted. There is definitely huge room for improvement in how products are made available in local areas.
It is also worth noting that the use of food banks has increased over the past few years and that period products are increasingly requested at food banks.
Of course, there is a referral mechanism for most food banks in the United Kingdom, so people have to be able to access the food bank in order to access a month’s worth of products for them and their family. That referral process misses huge groups of incredibly vulnerable women, such as refugees. Last month, Bloody Good Period produced a report that looked at the experiences of refugee women, and 75 per cent of the women to whom the organisation spoke had not been able to access period products.
I want to ask about the voucher scheme but, before I do, I will pick up on the point that Nicola Bristow mentioned about endometriosis. There has been a lot of discussion about dignity versus poverty, but it is about making sure that there is provision for everyone. We know that around one in 10 women have endometriosis and that it goes undiagnosed for a very long time, which does not help. If women who have very heavy or irregular periods and have additional costs to manage are not being referred to a food bank—they might not be on a low income—and are not in education, where do they access monthly supplies under the current schemes? Do you have any knowledge on that point?
I came across a school scheme in which an individual had to sign for a single pad. Every time a person wanted a pad, they had to sign for it, which was overburdensome and had a huge amount of stigma attached to it for the young person who was accessing the product. Somebody might have to use two pads at a time to try and sit through a lesson or a workplace situation and it is critical that they are allowed to assess their need and access the number of products that they need. When GPs diagnose those conditions, there is no mechanism for them to offer support for products to women or young women or other menstruaters.
I am sorry, Nicola—I did not mean to interrupt. Where do people have to sign for products? Was that example from Scotland?
No, it was not. It was a unique example from a small school that developed a mechanism and then came to us for advice and support.
In my in local area, the main place where people access products is in schools. That is obviously a problem, because periods do not stop in school holidays, so where would people access products during the Christmas break and the summer holidays? They cannot always be accessed in schools, which is why we believe that there should be a legal requirement on other organisations to provide them.
My final question is on the bill’s voucher scheme, about which there has been quite a bit of discussion. It is a framework bill and the scheme is a proposal that ministers might want to use if they feel the need for some trackability. The bill says that the maximum information in the scheme would be a person’s name and the first part of their postcode. There is an appetite to keep the scheme really simple. Is the mood of the panel that there is no need for any kind of voucher scheme or registration, except where people want to opt in for a delivery service?
It is important that we keep the scheme as barrier-free as possible. As Erin Campbell said, the stigma can be really debilitating for people who come forward and sign up for something like that. People do not want a big song and dance about the fact that they cannot afford period products. They do not want to sign up for something and get a card and hand it across a desk, wherever that may be. It would be so much simpler to go and get products and leave and that is that—they could get on with their day. They do not want a big fuss to be made about the fact that they may not be in a position to access on their own terms.
In our original Break the Barriers research, which was published in 2018, we identified the potential to test the c:card scheme, which would mirror a condom scheme for young people. In our initial consultation, a group of young people said that that would work. The scheme was implemented by Brook, the sexual health and wellbeing service, through the “Let’s talk. Period” project, but it has found that access to education has been the most critical thing for young people. If they have the education access, they then access a range of products—it is not just about getting a card and going in. There is a much broader, bigger issue about access than whether it is a voucher-based scheme.
Erin Campbell made a point earlier about the Scottish Youth Parliament’s approval of the policy that access to products is a basic human right. As you are aware, the Scottish Youth Parliament does not make human rights. Are you claiming that it is a human right under any of the articles of the European convention on human rights or the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights?
I do not know enough about the details of that to comment fully. However, our consultation on our most recent manifesto was based on the views of more than 70,000 young people, so I can say with confidence that there is a clear consensus that young people believe that it is a basic human right.
Do you believe that it should be a basic human right?
I just wanted to clarify that point.
Andy Wightman has just opened a can of worms. [Laughter.] We have only a couple of minutes left, so please be brief.
I take the opportunity to point out that today is the 40th anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, so if we wanted to look for a basis for human rights for women and girls, that would not be a poor place to start.
I invite those who have views on that point to communicate them, because it is quite important in the context of making legislation that is in the human rights framework.
I thank the panel very much for that helpful session. I will suspend the meeting to allow a witness changeover and to establish a video link for the next panel.10:55 Meeting suspended.
11:05 On resuming—
For our second panel, I welcome Sheena Stewart, university secretary of Abertay University, from Universities Scotland; Councillor Alison Evison, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities; Celia Hodson, chief executive of Hey Girls CIC; Gail Anderson, chief executive of the Orkney partnership, who is giving evidence by videolink; and Carolyn Hope, acting senior manager for facilities management with North Ayrshire Council. We will need to be mindful of the possibility of slight delays in the videolink during our discussion. Obviously, we will have to listen carefully as well.
I thank the witnesses for their written submissions. We will move straight to questions. Will you explain your organisations’ roles in delivering the Scottish Government’s existing programme of free provision of period products?
Councillor Alison Evison (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities)
COSLA is the voice of local government in Scotland, and we represent all 32 local authorities. We have been supporting the local authorities to deliver the services that are currently available through the Scottish Government. The main point on that is that each authority and each community within each authority does things differently to meet their particular local needs—localism is important.
COSLA can bring people together to talk about good experience and good practice. In fact, a meeting is being held tomorrow involving people from across the country who are involved in the issue to discuss and begin to look at the data that has been analysed. Obviously, work has been done and it is important to evaluate and analyse the data to see how effective that is and to review how we go forward. Much of the information that I can give today will be based on an initial evaluation. Members should bear in mind that it is initial and that further work will be happening from tomorrow onwards.
It is a shame that you did not have the meeting yesterday, and then you could have answered the next question, but I may as well ask it. How effective have the Scottish Government’s measures been? I ask Alison Evison to answer that and then the others can answer both questions.
In some areas, the measures have been very effective and have made a huge difference. One important effect is to get people talking about the issue and seeing the potential of what can be done and how we can move the provision into other areas. The nature of the distribution at the moment means that the service is not available everywhere. There were comments earlier that the current system is not sustainable as it is based on money being given out. We need something that is set in legislation and is more long term and permanent. The money that has been provided has allowed lots of local areas to develop good practice. We need to look at how effective that work has been, learn from it and spread it elsewhere.
Carolyn Hope (North Ayrshire Council)
A key part of my role as a senior manager in facilities management is to deliver the products to primary and secondary schools in North Ayrshire. North Ayrshire started delivery in August 2017, which was ahead of the funding from the Government. That was in recognition of the fact that North Ayrshire is the fifth most deprived area in Scotland and that there was real need in the area. It was difficult at first, because we were a bit of a trailblazer and it was unknown territory. However, the funding the following year was welcome. It has allowed us to expand the number of products that we make available for schools, and we hope to continue to do that and to work with the schools on that.
Our delivery across the wider community has been well received. We now deliver to 29 community centres and 12 libraries in North Ayrshire, which expands the provision outwith schoolchildren and school hours and terms.
There is still a lot to do. We have had some feedback from local community link workers that they are experiencing problems out in the wider North Ayrshire community with people they are meeting through non-medical appointments, who are struggling to access products. We are working across services in North Ayrshire to see what we can do as a council to address that need. Funding is an issue, as we have a limited pot. However, we are trying to explore different ways in which we can fulfil everyone’s needs.
We welcome this discussion today. It is a great step forward. The feedback that we have had from pupils in North Ayrshire has been excellent. We have had people telling us stories that will not be news to anyone in here. They feel more confident, they can go to PE without worrying about leaking, and they can come to school every day and not miss school at all. The impact of that is huge—I do not think that we will ever really understand what that impact is. I am very proud to be part of that in North Ayrshire and very pleased to be here today to help in any way I can. There is a keenness in North Ayrshire to support the bill and to take forward whatever we can do as a local authority too.
Celia Hodson (Hey Girls CIC)
I am the founder of a Scottish social enterprise called Hey Girls. We are a buy one, give one menstrual product social enterprise. We sell our products online, in supermarkets—ASDA, Waitrose, the Co-op and Scotmid—and in small independent eco-stores and retailers. We supply to a lot of corporates, so we deliver business-to-business products to washrooms. Our turnover predominantly comes from supplying the Scottish Government and an increasing number of Welsh councils with period products. We donate for every box that we sell. We have a network of over 200 donation partners across the UK that receive parcels of mixed products every month.
We believe that it is not enough just to give away menstrual products. As you have heard from other witnesses, there needs to be education about what good menstrual health is and what a normal period is, and we need to tackle the stigma, taboos and myths around menstruation and get women to talk about their periods and access products without shame. At the moment, we are developing a finder app so that users can just pop in their postcode and find the nearest free product. We are developing that with the Scottish Government and COSLA. That will mean that all our councils, schools and universities can put in where product can be found and that community buildings such as libraries and leisure centres can mark where product is available.
Sheena Stewart (Universities Scotland)
I represent Universities Scotland, which is the representative body for all 19 higher education institutions in Scotland, which range in size and type and have about 145,000 female students for whom today’s topic is relevant.
We have been very keen on this. I was on the steering group that implemented the Scottish Government scheme, and we have been very positive about that. Students have been campaigning on the issue for a number of years. All the HEIs have collaborated in implementing the scheme.
Funding first became available from September 2018. We have had some feedback from the first, six-month, census point in February 2019. More recent figures for the first year of implementation are coming in now. To give you a flavour of those first six months, by February 2019 the 19 HEIs had purchased 2.3 million products; 64 per cent of those had been distributed across campuses in various ways, which we can probably talk about later; and about 85 per cent of those products had been taken by students. That is an average, and there is a range of experience underneath that. The sector is meeting regularly to discuss implementation, and we are working with student bodies to promote the availability of the scheme, which we welcome. I can talk about that later.11:15
Gail Anderson (Orkney Partnership)
Good morning. My role in the Orkney partnership—the community planning partnership—is that I am a member of it. I am chief executive of Voluntary Action Orkney, which is the Orkney third sector interface. My role, along with the partnership, is to provide focused joint working to address the causes of inequalities across our islands, which are often deep rooted.
We were very happy to take part in and be an active member of the scheme by ensuring the free distribution of period products not only in schools, libraries and our college but across our community organisations. Period products are now available right across the islands. By utilising the networks that we have established, we are making sure that those who are furthest from the main points of access on our main island are able to access the products.
We have worked hard to create a delivery method that suits our local area, and I think that we are happy that we have begun to do that. To date, we have had very limited feedback, but I think that we are raising awareness, reducing the stigma that is associated with the issue and making sure that people’s dignity and privacy are respected when they access the products that they need.
Thank you very much.
It was great to get your introductory comments and the written evidence that you provided in advance. I want to explore the effectiveness of the existing schemes and where you think there is scope to improve them. A couple of you have mentioned funding, accessibility and reach.
I will start off by addressing who is currently missing out. I think that Sheena Stewart was here for the session with the previous panel, when the comment was made that the provision in universities is great, but we need to consider how people who are not at university could access such products. It is interesting that Sheena Stewart said that 85 per cent of the people who access the products in universities are students. Staff might be on low incomes. If you have information on this, perhaps you could say who you think is missing out in the current schemes. The witnesses have a good range of experience of service delivery that would help to give us a starting point on that.
As well as offering free products in schools, community centres and libraries, North Ayrshire Council provides them for staff in council buildings. You asked about who is missing out. There is a restriction on people who cannot get to those buildings because they do not work or are not in education. We are not getting to people who are at home for whatever reason—they might be a carer or they might have a disability that prevents them from working—and people who, for whatever reason, cannot travel to those buildings.
Community centres will have limited opening times, and people could feel embarrassed to go into them just to go to the toilet to get free products, because people usually go to a community centre for a specific purpose—for example, because there is a club on. They might feel that they would draw attention to themselves if they simply walked in to get products and then walked out again.
We are certainly doing good things in North Ayrshire, but there is a lot more that we need to do, because a huge group of people are not being covered by our current provision. However, there is only so much that we can do as a local authority.
I should have mentioned the debate that we had about poverty with the first panel, which dominated the first part of that session.
If we limit our understanding of poverty to financial poverty, we will miss out a lot of people who need access to period products. That is why it is important that the scheme is universal.
Schools are doing what they can—they are designing schemes, often in consultation with the pupils, to do things that are appropriate locally. In many of the discussions that have taken place in schools, it has come up that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has particular access needs that need to be addressed in the future. Another issue that has come up is that of cultural differences—some communities find it easier to access certain things than others.
Provision in public buildings is also important. It must be done at a local level so that people can access the products, but we are missing out people who cannot access those buildings.
If we look at poverty as being simply financial poverty, we will miss out people who are experiencing domestic abuse or financial abuse and people for whom there might be a cultural stigma around accessing such products. If we are looking to have a universal scheme, we need to give broader consideration to what that means.
Thanks in the main to the money from the Scottish Government, provision is developing in areas such as community centres. That is a limit in itself. We have been talking about rural areas and rurality—places that are not built up—and there is often no community centre in a rural area, which is immediately a problem for that kind of access. We need to look more broadly at where we can develop schemes.
Mobile libraries have been mentioned and, where they exist, that is very good but, given the pressures on council budgets, they are one of the services that could go, so they are not a sustainable way forward. Some areas are looking at links with local pharmacies. Often, pharmacies are more local than anything else. A scheme that involves partners such as pharmacies is a way of developing it as well.
That comes back to the key point for us in all this—we need locally designed services to improve access for all community groups, including the LGBT community, different ethnic groups, Gypsy Travellers, homeless people, people who access women’s shelters from abusive circumstances and all those who need access. To have access that meets all those groups, we need locally designed services by people who understand the needs of the local area. If we have legislation that becomes too prescriptive in what it is doing and how it is organising, we will have access problems. That localism is key to meeting our aims.
I will follow up on that. Students are not a homogeneous group. We have students who are distance learners who do not come into buildings on a regular basis and students who go out on placement for extended periods, such as nursing students. Universities and higher education institutions have been adapting flexible approaches in implementing the scheme, because there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. In some cases, it might be a non-means-tested grant given to a distance-learning student, or it could be stocks of supplies being given to students before they go on placement. We will continue to have collaborative meetings to find out how the range of HEIs are working with the different scenarios. The variability of type of student and type of organisation requires different types of solution.
Would it also work in schools—pupils being given a bundle to see them through periods when they are not at school? That was talked about in earlier meetings.
I assume so. That may happen in some places. Others could probably comment.
It is fair to say that we have made a good start. There are some amazing examples of great practice, but some schools and councils have been slower to pick up the opportunity. Stirling, for example, made a campaign around period products. It has Pedro the period panda in a full mardi gras suit, who wanders around and gives out menstrual products in the corridor—there is no shame or stigma around Pedro.
The other extreme is where you still have to go and see Mrs So-and-so, who will get the keys, go to the cupboard and open it, take out your packets of pads and then lock the door and put the keys back. You can imagine the difference in the volumes of products that go out in those two different situations. The previous panel talked about stocks of product sitting in offices and stockrooms, all going out of date. They sit there because there has not been a campaign to make anyone aware that the products are freely available. You go from having posters saying, “Got caught short? Take what you need and take some home for mum,” to people still whispering that, “Someone’s got some product,” but being worried about the budget and just dripping them out as people ask for them. There is still a significant difference between those things. That plays out in communities. We provide 26 of the 32 local authorities across Scotland and some are putting product out in baskets, tubs and red boxes all over so anyone can freely pick them up. In others, you go to reception and fill in a form saying who you are and what product you need and you are given a pack of pads or tampons. There are huge differences.
There is still work to be done on procurement and making those things freely available. We have not been able to supply either public buildings or schools that are ringing up to ask for more products because we are still waiting for a purchase order. Although we have done a great job, it is still pretty sticky to manage all those systems.
I will bring Gail Anderson in. I promise not to leave you until last the next time.
That is quite all right. It is interesting to hear from colleagues.
On the issue of access and poverty, our experience is that the role of the third sector and community organisations is hugely important. The way we have done it here is that my organisation acts as a distribution centre for third sector organisations and community organisations, including community halls and community schools right across the islands. The products are made freely available in those premises and through those agencies to those who need them. They are in baskets in toilets, they are in men’s toilets and we are looking at making them accessible on the ferries, because there are quite long distances between some of the islands and the mainland. We have tried hard to make them accessible right across the board.
There is obviously still some work to do, and part of that is about promotion and education, but we are slowly getting to the point at which people know where to access these products and are able to do so. Having them available in that way also enables young people who are not at school during the school holidays to access them quite freely.
That is our experience, and the third sector is a key partner in distribution and making the products available to those who need them most.
I want to tease out the accessibility issue. It is about physical accessibility and the people who need support. Who is seeking support and whether there is a stigma around accessing period products came up with the first panel.
I want to tease out the point about physical accessibility. Alison Evison talked about the capacity to localise, and you are all talking about a mix of universality and targeting in the physical sense and in respect of attitudes. What is the mix in terms of homeless people and refugees? Are we talking just about bathrooms, or is it wider than that? Are we talking about all bathrooms and discreet products in bathrooms? To what extent is this about attitudes and physical availability? To what extent have your schemes been designed with that in mind, to enable everybody who needs period products to access them without that lack of dignity?
I would also like to hear a bit of reflection on physical access. Your opening comments were great, but I just want to tease out who is still being excluded and how you are overcoming that.
I will kick off on that from the point of view of the higher education institutions. We obviously have students across a range of ages—young people, peri-menopausal women and other older people, for example. We recognise that the scheme covers the whole range of menstruating individuals. The design principles that we have been applying reflect that and remove barriers by making products available in a range of places—in cubicles, toilets, campus shops, student associations and so on—to make sure that there is no stigma and that there is a variety of ways in which people can access the products.
This was coming from students anyway—campaigns had taken place in many institutions. Menstruating individuals were feeling that they could be prevented from experiencing education by lack of access or poverty stopping them coming to lectures and taking part in classes. They were turning round and going home if period products were not available to them. That is obviously a fundamental barrier to education.
We have a range of types of student—not just young people—so we have tried to make the products accessible in a variety of ways. For example, we might have young people from a care background who do not have a family to help with provision. Those are some reflections from the higher education sector.11:30
The concept of making period products freely available is very important, as is flexibility in terms of delivering in a way that suits the local area, by people who understand local needs.
In Orkney, as I mentioned earlier, third sector organisations that work with a range of people including people who experience mental health problems, poverty and domestic abuse have a store of products that they can make available to those people. The products are also made available in all toilets—men’s and ladies’—so that they can be picked up by anyone; they can be picked up by a man for someone whom he lives with who needs them. Trans people can access them from men’s, ladies’ or gender-neutral toilets. They are in baskets; there is a variety of products and people can just take what they need. As I mentioned earlier, we are also negotiating products being made available on the ferries.
We are raising awareness and we are making products freely available in as many locations as possible. We are also making sure that those who are most in need can access them through third sector organisations. However, there is more work to be done to promote that.
I have spoken about physical access; the other issue is education. As we promote the approach more, and people get more used to it and begin to understand that it is a right, there will be a gradual process of education and of raising awareness.
When the topic was discussed originally at COSLA, and the local authorities came together, they set up some guiding principles. The key principle was to protect students’ dignity by avoiding anxiety, embarrassment and stigma. That has moved on, as we start to work in public buildings. Stigma is a huge issue that prevents access. We have figures that show that 41.8 per cent of young people do not feel comfortable buying sanitary products, even now. There are still young people who do not want to go to a shop to buy period products, let alone access somewhere in the school or community centre where they might have to answer questions about why they need it. We have to deal with that.
As part of reducing the stigma, it is important to provide access for everybody, in all toilets. The bill talks about gender-neutral toilets in particular. They are not available everywhere, and lots of males need to access products, either for themselves or for members of their families. We need to be open to where things are going, and to use that to help reduce stigma.
A key factor that has been mentioned is education. The fact that people are beginning to talk more naturally about periods is good, but it is still something that, in a classroom situation or in a work situation, people feel embarrassed about. People feel that it affects how they can work; they are nervous about how they might appear. Maybe they do not want to go to work or to school, which is a huge problem that we need to overcome.
Overcoming stigma is part of the solution, but educating people in a general sense is important, too. We need to do all those things to reduce stigma, because we cannot have people being unable to access work or education because it is a particular time of the month.
North Ayrshire has a variety of distribution methods within our schools. We started off with a free-vend machine in the communal area of the toilet, but we soon realised that there was a stigma for girls going up and taking something from the machine—it was embarrassing for them—so we put machines in the cubicles, as well. We have also moved to using baskets, which is in order to make it the norm. The more visible the basket, the more it becomes just part of the normal day, and is just something that you would normally find in those locations. That is part of trying to break down the barriers.
I echo what has been said about education being key. In North Ayrshire, there is still a lot of work to be done with our education partners about having open conversations with girls and boys in schools. Let us not underestimate the power of involving the boys in those conversations: they have sisters, mums and relatives for whom they could collect products, but the products are probably not very accessible to them. It is important to include them.
Celia Hodson mentioned Stirling; other authorities have done some great things that we can all learn from. Everyone should be included in discussions—we should open up the conversation and make it more natural. We can do quite a bit of work with our young people; if we get to them when they are young, they will be used to having such conversations.
The language is important because we are not trying to cover anything up. We are talking about periods; let us not call them something else. Let us talk about the subject and get the words out there so that people are not embarrassed when they are suddenly presented with them or the products, but are used to them as an everyday norm.
I agree with all that, of course. We created a best practice guide to share all the great stories about how boys and girls and mums and dads have got involved in the conversation. We have initiatives called “Hey boys!” and pads4dads, which is about getting men ready for their daughter to start her period and how to go shopping for products for their partner.
There has to be access for all. We use the terms “period poverty” and “period dignity”. If you use the phrase “period poverty” in communities and, particularly, in education, people say, “They’re for the poor kids. I don’t take them because they’re for the kids who haven’t got anything.” Even though we are providing a beautiful, environmentally friendly and sustainable product, students still think that they are for the poor kids. Giving access to anyone who needs it when they are caught short sends out a different message.
To pick up on the point about being caught short at work, we provide products for everyone from H&M to Brewdog bars. From our surveys we have found that 86 per cent of women have been caught short more than once when they have been at work, and that 96 per cent of those women went home. If we explain that to an employer in terms of lack of productivity, and show how they can, for a minimal amount of money, put products in washrooms and provide dignity for their staff, why would they not do it? It is not a difficult ask for the corporate community.
When the products are freely available to all, you will find that people do not fill their rucksacks—they take what they need. That might be one tampon or it might be three packs; it depends on their personal situation.
I have a question for Sheena Stewart, although it could also apply to councils. Section 5 of the bill deals with education providers. We are here to scrutinise the bill, so we have to drill down on every word in it. I will read from section 5.
“In each school, university and college, the education provider must make period products available free of charge for pupils or students who need to use them.”
There is no mention of staff. Sheena Stewart said that, in universities, 85 per cent of products are taken by students. The implication is therefore that 15 per cent are not taken by students but by other people.
I will clarify that. I said that 85 per cent of the products have been taken by students, but we do not have any breakdown of how many students, as opposed to staff, have taken the products.
Does that mean that 15 per cent are not taken by students?
Yes—or perhaps it means that they are not taken at all.
My point is that, as it is written, the bill mentions only “pupils or students” and nobody else.
In higher education, to our knowledge no analysis has been undertaken of the costs. We are keen to do an evaluation when we get to the end of the two-year phase of the Scottish Government scheme. When we were discussing implementation, there were so many unknowns, so we had to make assumptions about costs.
Is the bill too limited? There are not just “pupils or students” at schools and universities.
We have members of staff and visiting members of the public on campuses. The situation will vary in different types of campus and depending on what events are happening on campus. The impacts will be different in different types of higher education institutions.
When we started the work, a lot of it was about access to education—stopping women, girls and others from having to leave the classroom and miss out on education opportunities. That was a big spur for what was originally done.
In the discussions today, we have heard various questions about the workplace. Obviously, that includes people who work in a school or university. We have heard that the unions are pushing for workplace expansion, which would be helpful. My brief today is to talk about local authorities and what we are already doing with the money. COSLA does not have students and pupils working in our buildings, but we have free period products for everybody. Workplace expansion would be welcome and would mirror what we are trying to do in public buildings for the community. We have extended access to free period products during the past couple of years that we have been talking about it.
Universality includes people who access education, people who deliver education and people who are out and about in the community. That is not what the bill says at the moment, so expanding provision to the workplace sounds like a positive way forward.
Thank you. Andy Wightman has to leave shortly, so I will let him in.
I am grateful, convener. I apologise; I have to leave for a 12 o’clock meeting.
I have four brief questions. The first picks up on Graham Simpson’s point about universities and higher education institutions in general. The evidence from Universities Scotland says:
“If a statutory duty is placed on”—
higher education institutions
“it is vital that provision is fully funded, and to ensure this, that dedicated additional funding continues permanently.”
However, section 5 makes it a statutory duty for universities, colleges and schools to provide free period products. Section 8 says that “Scottish Ministers may make” appropriate arrangements for funding, if they so wish. Through the bill, higher education institutions will have a statutory duty. Why do you feel that the Scottish Government must fund that? I presume that you pay for toilet paper and soap.
We do. The context for us is the tight funding environment that we are in, with cuts to higher education funding over the past seven years. As others have mentioned, in order to be sustainable, provision has to be affordable. Part of that will be evaluation of how the provided funds meet the costs of delivering the scheme. Given the environment that we are in, if the duty is statutory, it must be sustainable and funded. The evaluation of the two years of the initiative will be helpful in informing the discussion.
Therefore, it is fair to say that your position is that you do not believe that you should have a statutory duty, unless there is statutory funding. Statutory funding is a rare thing, but we will leave that there.
You mentioned evaluation. Section 2(4) of the bill says that a scheme should be
“operational not later than 12 months after Royal Assent.”
For today’s purposes, let us assume that the bill is passed by Parliament and that it achieves royal assent on 31 March. That would mean that we would have to have a scheme in place by March 2021. Given that you are talking about two years to evaluate the current situation, would that be too soon?
There is already some evaluation work in train—for example, with Young Scot. The funding ends in March 2020. The academic year finishes in June, so there will be time for the evaluation to be done, in order to inform the next stages.
I have a brief question for Councillor Evison. In your opening remarks, you mentioned the need for local variation in delivery of the scheme. Does the bill provide ministers with sufficient flexibility to deliver a scheme that is adaptable for different parts of Scotland?
There is a line in the bill that says “The Scottish ministers may”. It is crucial that the bill emphasises that there has to be local delivery, because that is the only way that the scheme will work. We have been talking about the cost, but the scheme will provide access to everybody who needs it only if it is given local focus. Everything else that we are doing in relation to the national performance framework and what that is trying to do will work only if such things are done locally.
Andy Wightman made point about cost to Universities Scotland. Councils would also need to have everything fully funded. There is no way that local government could take on something else that is not fully funded, so I must emphasise that that would be a key aspect for our work as well.
We worry that the system could be too prescriptive, and that a voucher scheme could be far too prescriptive. The system must be designed locally with local partners in local places as appropriate, taking into account rurality. The islands and city areas are all different, and there are differences in each community. We need to ensure that local design is key to the approach. That will make it more cost effective, because targeting will happen in conjunction with local people.11:45
Just to be clear, do you agree with the universities that the scheme has to be fully funded in statute? As I have said, that is difficult.
It has to be fully funded.
So, you do not see yourselves as providing workplaces in which, as I said in the previous panel session, you have to provide sanitation facilities and sanitation disposal facilities by law. You do not see a moral obligation to provide them at your own hand without relying on Scottish Government funding.
People in local government feel lots of moral obligations. That is why a lot of people are in that world doing that work. They feel that strongly, as you are very well aware. The bottom line is that our funding is very tight, and we have to live in the realms of what is possible. We cannot deliver what we want to deliver unless it is fully funded. That goes for any scheme that is given to us. We need full funding.
I understand the point that you are making, but we will have to reflect on that in relation to the provisions in the bill.
The bill makes no provision for any statutory consultation on the design of such a scheme. We have heard a lot of evidence this morning about various aspects of schemes and how they might work. It seems to me that the Government should consult, and I am sure that it will, if the bill is enacted. Should the bill make statutory provision for that?
The consultation is going on anyway. That is how we do things. As I said, there is a meeting tomorrow to do a further stage of the data analysis. We are doing that, and I imagine that most people who are involved in that work want to do that, because we want to be able to make the best system possible with the available resources. That involves reviewing and analysing and moving forward from that. I do not see a need to make that statutory. It is happening.
The bill goes further than the scheme that is currently being provided. It refers to powers to make the scheme universal and people applying by post, for example. It seems to me that we will have to reach out even to schemes that might operate in other countries, because we do not do that at the moment for anything.
I think that consultation at the local level is better. Evaluating a scheme at the local level shows whether need is being met at that level, and that is the key.
Okay. Thank you.
I have a question for Councillor Evison. Earlier, there was talk about good practice and bad practice at the local level. Is there a danger that, if there is not a set standard, the approach will not work in some areas?
I do not think that it is about good practice and bad practice; rather, it is about very good practice and people learning as they go. I think that good practice will eventually become the norm. Nobody does not want to deliver. We are talking about authorities that are totally involved in what they are doing. Earlier, someone mentioned the pace at which we have moved to get to this stage. That has been very quick. Some authorities have prioritised the issue and others have not, as there have been other issues to talk about. It is not so much about good practice and bad practice as about good practice and developing practice.
That was well put by COSLA.
My reading of the comments that have been made is that there is a perception that the current system is not adequately funded to ensure that there are a range of products and opportunities for individuals in different communities to manage it. If that is the case, how realistic are the costs associated with the bill to ensure that we will get a better system across your organisations?
At the moment, we do not know whether the funding is adequate. We are also seeing a change in demand as users become aware of what is available.
In the HE sector, we like to research and evaluate things. As we get to the end of the two-year funded period and test the assumptions that we had at the beginning and look at what the bill says about provision more widely, we will have a better sense of the adequacy of funding and what levels of funding are required to sustain the system for the number of students that we have.
Typically, the uptake of reusable products has been low. The number of requests and purchase orders that have come through for menstrual cups or reusable pants has been pretty low. If we give a student a menstrual cup in freshers week, as we have done with City of Glasgow College students, they will have that for the whole of their time in education and probably a further five years after they have left, so there are significant cost savings. With Zero Waste Scotland, we ran the trial period campaign, which involved getting members of the public to try a reusable pad. Actually, once people have switched to a reusable product, they do not go back to disposable products. A greater focus on the environmental and cost-saving benefits of reusable products would be very positive.
You have touched on public awareness and the stigma that exists and on how you educate people and evaluate and manage the system. Do you believe that such education will change the dynamics, and change the stigma and the organisation behind it all, so that women and girls feel much more at ease about the whole process? At the moment, it appears that they do not feel at ease, and there is still a big gap.
There has to be awareness raising. The sort of conversation that we are having now raises the subject of stigma and taboos. Our campaign involved Michael Sheen. To get him talking about periods on STV during an England-Scotland rugby match broke down some pretty big taboos right there. It is important that we have campaigns that raise awareness of menstruation and the products that are available to people who have periods.
I want to pick up on the costs. We have concerns about the finances. The cost projections for the bill are based on a cost of 9p per unit, whereas the work that we have done in local authorities suggests that it is 17.6p per unit, which is almost double that. We have to be aware of the costs and ensure that the bill is fully costed. There are also issues with administration and running costs, which would perhaps be magnified if we used a voucher scheme, although we do not want to use that anyway, for various reasons. We have to be careful to take into account all the costs that are involved.
We need to consider that costs might be higher at the beginning and then decrease. The figure of 17.6p comes from our review at six months of delivery. That might decrease as we move forward and work more with local partners, develop more appropriate schemes and understand needs. The representative of the on the ball campaign talked about boxes of products sitting around. That happened because there is a learning process to find out what is needed in particular areas. As we move on, we will not have boxes of products sitting around, because the provision will be more appropriate to what is required. However, we need to be realistic about the costs at the moment.
We want the provision to be universal and available everywhere, but we need to do the costing carefully. If we start worrying about the costs, we should think of the costs of not doing it, and what we are losing in terms of productivity, which we have heard about. We need to balance those issues, and we need to be realistic.
So the costs that are in the bill appear not to be realistic in the short term, although potentially things may improve in the medium and long term.
In our experience, in the first six months, the cost was 17.6p per unit. We must be realistic. We want to make this happen, but we have to be realistic about the cost.
Most of my questions will be for Carolyn Hope, and not just because I am a representative of North Ayrshire but because North Ayrshire has the most experience and has been leading on the issue. North Ayrshire has about 2.5 per cent of Scotland’s population, so one would think that it would be fairly easy to extrapolate the costs. In the past year, how much has it cost to deliver the service? I did not see that figure in your submission.
We spent roughly £55,000. There has been a change in some of the feedback that we have had about the products, which goes back to what Alison Evison said about the situation changing. When we started to provide free products in North Ayrshire, we had a lot of heavy initial set-up costs for rent, vending machines and so on. However, those costs came down in the second year, because a different framework was available for us to use.
We are thinking about the longer game and hoping that costs will come down over time, because we are promoting reusable products. That work is in the very early stages in North Ayrshire. We are unsure about how that will pan out and about whether costs will come down, but we hope that they will. Students and pupils are keen to move in that direction, but there is also a wee bit of a fear factor about reusable products, and we need to have conversations about that. I am optimistic that there will be a reduction in costs, because we are using more reusable products.
We have a bit of education to do with senior primary pupils. It is important to get in touch with them and to have conversations about the range of products that are available as soon as we can, so that when pupils move into secondary school it will perhaps be more of the norm to use reusable products. The market is continually changing. Different products are going out, and prices will change.
I echo what everyone has said about it being difficult, at this stage, to say what the costs will be. We will need to continually review the funding levels that are available and how we can work better with other partners to provide a more efficient service. I am sure that we will all be keen to do that in order to maximise our funding and ensure that it goes out further to people who need it most.
North Ayrshire Council has been a trailblazing local authority on the issue, and it is important that its experiences are shared with COSLA and others so that other local authorities do not need to reinvent the wheel. You talked about vending machines being in cubicles rather than in toilets, which is very important. I do not know whether local authorities are planning to do this, but it might be possible to roll out the service to primary schools, because girls menstruate, on occasion, before they go to secondary school.
In its submission, North Lanarkshire Council says:
“Fluctuations in usage is evident across the secondary school estate however the average uptake based on the number of female pupils for the last school year was 45%.”
What is the level of fluctuation? That is really important, because I imagine that there will be differences in relation to the socioeconomic backgrounds from which schools draw their pupils. The council says that 45 per cent of pupils use the service. Does that mean that 45 per cent of pupils use it routinely, or does it mean that 45 per cent of pupils have used it, with some girls dipping in and out? It is important to try to get as much information as possible so that the Scottish Government can provide the appropriate funding.
That was a pretty crude figure. We looked at the number of female pupils in the school and at how many months we had products in vending machines. We looked at how many products were used over the full year, and there were huge fluctuations, as you said. However, across the nine secondary schools that we looked at, the overall uptake equated to 45 per cent. At the top of the range, there was huge usage—120 per cent—in some schools, but the usage in other schools was as low as 20 per cent.
More work is needed involving talking to girls in schools about why there is such fluctuation in the local area, what the needs are and whether we are getting it right with the products that we are offering. Different schools want different products, so there might be low uptake because we have not got the products quite right in the school. There also might not be a huge need in a school because of the economic situation in the local area. As a local authority, we need to do some of that digging.
Do staff in the schools take a uniform or an autonomous approach to the issue? We are talking about a range between 20 per cent and 120 per cent but, knowing North Ayrshire as I do, I do not think that the socioeconomic disparity is quite that huge across that area. What role is played by the approach that staff take? We want to get that right as the service is rolled out to more and more schools across Scotland.12:00
I agree. There is a stronger case for us to be working more closely with our education partners. Within North Ayrshire, facilities management—my service—is a key driver for the provision of the products and the communication with the school. We need more of a buy-in from the education department in order to have more open conversations with the schools to facilitate that. In January, we will work with education to conduct some more working groups—recently, the department has been more forthcoming in that regard, which is positive.
We have done a lot in North Ayrshire, but we cannot stop there, because there is a lot more that we can do. Sharing best practice with colleagues in other organisations is the way forward, because everyone has different ideas and things work differently in different areas. I support what Alison Evison said about local design. The pupils and communities are telling us locally what they need, and we need to respond to that because, if we do not, they will not use the service and there will continue to be a gap.
I want to make a point about vending, because that is an interesting part of this. Nobody wants to walk up to a vending machine and make it go, “clunk, clunk”, and get themselves two plastic pads. Getting two plastic pads in a cardboard box from a vending machine is not the most environmentally responsible thing that you could do. It is also expensive—that, together with the stigma and the noise, puts people off using a vending machine.
If you start to not take a vending-machine approach, you can make a wider range of products available. Also, the usage will go up but the cost will come down, because you will not be tied into a contract that involves expensive vending machines. That is an interesting shift that will start to come through in some of the statistics.
Earlier, we heard that products are now being placed in baskets in toilets, which normalises things. That is important.
I have a question about rurality. My constituency, in North Ayrshire, includes the islands of Arran and Cumbrae. Carolyn Hope talked about distributing these products not only in secondary schools but in 12 libraries and 29 community centres. Have you found any differences in uptake in the rural and island communities as opposed to the mainland and urban communities? In Orkney, how does the uptake in Kirkwall compare with the uptake in the more outlying island areas?
Arran high school has a 118 per cent uptake, which is one of the highest rates. We also supply baskets to primary schools, and some of the primary school headteachers in Arran have requested more products. It seems that there is a slightly higher demand in Arran—the statistics certainly show that, and, anecdotally, that is what we hear from the headteachers and education partners.
In Orkney, we are in the process of evaluating the service, but we have had repeat demands for products from our island communities. At the moment, all that I can say is that the situation seems to be equal across the communities—that is anecdotal, however, as our evaluation is just beginning and we do not have actual figures yet.
We have taken great pains to make the products available in all those areas. As far as we are aware, the uptake is uniform across Kirkwall and the mainland and in our outer isles.
There was mention earlier of posting the products to rural areas that have issues with accessing the service. Many local authorities have huge reservations about whether that is possible. Many local authorities do not post anything at the moment, so doing so would require the setting up of a whole new administration system from scratch, which would involve huge costs. When we talk about widening access in our rural areas and islands, we should be thinking about working locally in areas through pharmacies, pubs or other such places where people can access the service. That is a better approach than posting things out, which might cause problems.
I completely share your concerns on that issue. During the break between our panels of witnesses I was speaking to other committee members who share that view, and I think that we should discuss it formally.
It seems to me that posting products would open a door to the scheme being bureaucratic and highly expensive. People in rural areas sometimes have to have food and other supplies, such as pharmacy items, delivered. However, having period products posted out—especially if it were to be done on request—could significantly increase the scheme’s costs, which would place a disproportionate burden on those being asked to deliver the products. I do not know what other panel members think about that aspect, but I am certainly quite concerned about it.
We need to move on.
Indeed. I have no more questions; I am just making a comment. I am not sure whether any other member wants to add to that.
I want to stick to the question of costs, which I think is the big issue here. The bill would create a scheme that would impose costs on public authorities and other public-facing bodies. The public-facing bodies are not named, so we do not know what they might be. My understanding is that there could be up to 120 of them in Scotland, but I have no idea what might actually be included under that heading. However, it is clear that the bill would impose costs on each and every one of them.
Section 8, which Mr Wightman referred to, says:
“The Scottish Ministers may make such payments as they think appropriate to the ... councils, bodies, persons and education providers obliged by or under this Act”.
The key phrase there is “as they think appropriate”. I can foresee there being an annual stand-off between councils and the Government—a situation with which you will be familiar, Councillor Evison. If such a scheme were to be set up, I can see councils or universities saying, “We need £X”, and the Government saying, “No you don’t. We are going to give you £Y”, which would be lower, so there would be a gap.
Is section 8 fit for purpose? Clearly, it does not tick the box that you want to be ticked, which would make the scheme fully funded.
We need such a scheme to be fully funded. That is important. You referred to the possibility of an annual stand-off over the appropriate funding level. If we are all working with the same aim in mind—that is, working within the terms of the national performance framework to develop schemes that we want to deliver between us—that aim should be to fund the scheme fully. We need to ensure that that is the way forward. If we share the aim and want the same outcome, surely it should be appropriate to fund such a scheme for our communities.
We also need to think about the costs of not fully funding the scheme, such as children missing out on their education and people leaving the workplace. Such costs are very hard to quantify. We have heard various figures, such as the figure of 96 per cent of people going home because they do not have the resources that they need at work. That situation exists, and if we are concerned about productivity, educational opportunities and equity, such a scheme needs to be put in place.
Would anyone else like to comment?
There seems to be agreement on that across the panel.
Councillor Evison, you said that such a scheme needs to be put in place. By that, do you mean that everything that is in the bill as drafted needs to be put in place? You have said that the scheme should be fully funded, but if the required funding turned out to be much more than the Government felt that it could afford, that would be difficult. What exactly do you mean when you say that the scheme has to be put in place?
This conversation is about looking at the bill and analysing what can be done to strengthen it.
It is indeed.
We question some of the bill’s provisions—in particular, the idea of a voucher scheme, which would involve costs in putting it in place and administering it. We consider those administration costs unnecessary, because a voucher scheme would not be the best way of delivering what we want the bill to deliver.
We want access to period products to be universal. Getting even the minimum amount of information from people—such as their names and addresses—would create a barrier to universal provision of such products, because people would feel that they did not want to give that information.
We already have problems with free school meals in relation to whether—for various reasons—everyone who is eligible takes them up. The voucher scheme would be in danger of creating such problems as well. It would not achieve universality; requiring even a minimum of detail for a voucher scheme would put people off and create a barrier.
To be fair, that was not the question.
The point was about the bill as it is, and we would like to see things such as that amended. That was the point of the question.
My question on section 8 was about the phrase
“Scottish Ministers may make such payments as they think appropriate.”
Presumably, you are saying that that is not strong enough. If it is not strong enough, we need to know what the cost is, which we do not seem to know. You quoted a figure per unit that is way higher than the figure that is in the financial memorandum accompanying the bill. In addition, the Scottish Government has its own figures, which are higher than those that are in the financial memorandum. Therefore, the figures are disputed. We are here to make good law.
I also said that the figures that we have are for after the first six months. In addition, several of us have commented that there are ways of bringing the figures down over time. They will not necessarily be that high in future, because, as the scheme develops and as we learn, we will change what we do.
I also made the strong point about local development and local organisation in relation to how the scheme is done. If it is done at the local level, the money will be far more effectively used, because we will address need in a local area taking into account local circumstances. Such localism is key to addressing what might seem to be huge costs.
Good afternoon, panel. I have listened carefully to all your interesting contributions. I know that we are running out of time, but I want to pick up on the cost issue that was just discussed.
I do not want to paraphrase—if I do so incorrectly, please jump in—but it seems to me from what Councillor Evison said that she does not think that the financial memorandum is 100 per cent realistic. Is that a fair assessment?
I said that our figure of 17.6p per unit is for the first six months.
That is not the price-per-unit basis that is used in the financial memorandum, which is 9p. That is a quite a diversion. Very briefly, do the other panel members consider that the financial memorandum is not 100 per cent realistic, or are they happy with it?
I will give some further figures from HE. At the 12-month point, our average price per product was 19p, which is—obviously—adrift from the initial assumptions. On the provision in the bill about placing products in every facility, in some campuses, there will be key facilities, and if that provision were to be rolled out to every toilet, the costs would increase. Those are the two elements from the HE perspective.
It is a moveable feast, and so it is hard to pinpoint the costs at the moment. I mentioned how much we spent last year, but that is based on all things being equal. We may increase or change that provision as we move forward; we will continually adapt it. That goes back to my point that it is difficult to pinpoint the costs. Obviously, the figures that we put out are, perhaps, more operational and realistic at this point in time; however, they are subject to change. It is difficult.
I take that point. However, at the end of the day, the bill will have the provisions that it will have, subject to parliamentary approval, and in turn they will have cost implications. You are all saying quite clearly that you expect the money to come from somewhere else, and so a figure will have to be arrived at. I take the point that it is a moveable feast and that things can change over time. However, I presume that, if one were coming at it from the perspective of local government, one would err not on the side of costs going down in relation to the ask of central Government, but on the other side.
It is a fair point to make as a matter of rationality, but as a matter of budgetary practice, it is probably not the way that local government would proceed in its discussions with central Government. As such, it is important to ascertain a realistic figure, because somebody has to find the money, which has to come from somewhere. If it is being spent on the scheme, it is not being spent on something else.
Sheena Stewart made a really important point. If we take the financial context into account, what is the priority for the bill? I raised that key issue with the previous panel. At the moment, the bill has a very wide potential scope. The cost of the bill is unclear, but what we hear is that it will be much higher than the financial memorandum leads us to believe. That begs a fundamental question: what is the scheme to be, within a cost envelope that can be afforded and is sustainable? As the bill undergoes parliamentary scrutiny, might COSLA contribute to the debate by coming up with a more realistic figure? I am looking at Alison Evison.12:15
You first asked what we are trying to do. The overall purpose of our work on the scheme is to create period dignity. That is why the scheme is so important. In doing that, we will open the doors to educating people and to getting them to participate better, longer and in more diverse ways, such as through dance and physical education. We are looking at greater productivity in our workplaces. People will be able to concentrate on their work if they are not worrying about the product that they do not have in their bag the minute they need it.
As you know, the bulk of council funding—85 per cent—comes from the Scottish Government, so that is where we will look for funding for the scheme. We cannot possibly fund it ourselves from other resources.
You asked whether we have come up with any figures—
Are you planning to look at the figures in more detail?
The figures that I have quoted are for the first six months. We have another meeting tomorrow, when the second stage of analysis will begin. We heard about Carolyn Hope’s experience in North Ayrshire, and how the issue is a moveable feast as things change and as we get better at assessing local need. That takes us back to the issue of working with local partners, which means that the scheme will be far more appropriate to an area and the cost will come down.
We need to be realistic about what the scheme could cost, and ensure that funding is available. We also need to review what we are doing. However, if we are working locally to address local need, what we are looking at is entirely possible. In fact, as I have said, the scheme is crucial in terms of education, equity and better productivity. It is therefore crucial to economic development, inclusivity and all the things that we are working towards through the national performance framework.
The partnership’s view is very similar to that of my colleagues on the panel. We feel that it would not be possible to participate in the scheme if the Government chose not to fund it. Many organisations face a challenging financial situation that would make it difficult to deliver the scheme in the manner in which it should be delivered.
Another point is becoming clear through the conversation. Many of us are reviewing the scheme and gathering information and have not yet had the opportunity to analyse properly the cost, the benefits and how the scheme could be improved. Without that information, it is difficult to make clear statements about the cost benefit implications of the scheme, its financing and the effect on people’s dignity. We are maybe at too early a stage to provide a clear response, because we do not have enough information.
I suggest that it is not a case of the Government not funding the scheme, but of the Government not knowing what it is being asked to fund. To be fair, it is early in the process, so at this stage the Government cannot make such a decision.
I want to pick up on the cost per unit. We won the Scottish Excel washroom solutions contract. As you will know, those contracts are won predominantly on price, and then on environmental impact and service. Our unit price is 7.5p for a pad and 9p to 13p for a tampon, so I am not quite sure where the other costs are coming from. If local authorities used the washroom solutions framework, that would instantly bring down the cost of the products.
Our products are environmentally sustainable. We have to give costs and choice, but in a pack of 10 well-known branded products there is the equivalent of four or five carriers bags of plastic. We are eradicating one problem and creating another for ourselves. We need to look at sustainable biodegradable and environmentally friendly reusable products, rather than buying whatever people used to buy.
That is a really important contribution. I think that we are talking about two different issues in relation to cost. There is an issue about setting up that involves ensuring that the areas where the products will be available are fully fitted-out. The on-going cost is likely to be less, because it will involve replacing only what is used. Over time, there will be a much more accurate reflection of the cost of uptake.
Carolyn Hope mentioned a cost of £55,000 in the past year. What was the set-up cost? You had to get all the stock initially. It might be that the Scottish Government will have to make a one-off payment of several million pounds to roll the scheme out across Scotland, but after that the figure might be closer to what the financial memorandum says.
You are right; the set-up costs are heavy. Much of that came from installation and rental costs of free-vend machines, which we are trying to move away from. We were tied to a vending-machine contract that we are now coming out of. That is where we see cost savings coming through. Our costs were heavily weighted towards installation and rental, so I am confident that they will come down. We will just be replenishing and will be looking at alternative products.
You are not putting a figure on that. Obviously, we hope that other local authorities will learn from what has happened in North Ayrshire and will move to a different system. Are you saying that the initial cost in the first year was higher than it will be in subsequent years?
I congratulate North Ayrshire for being a trailblazer and for getting out of the traps early. We all appreciate that there were initial heavy costs in going first without support, but we can see that need is being met.
Many of the witnesses have talked about a rights-based approach, and about trying to achieve equity across Scotland. I take Councillor Evison’s points about localism being absolutely key. The way in which the bill—which is a framework bill—has been drafted leaves a lot of prescription to come later, through dialogue with partners. Is that the right approach?
COSLA thinks that that is the right approach. Schemes must be designed locally. Schemes that are effective in addressing local need will have been designed locally and will have involved the people. We have seen the brilliant effects of pupils having been involved in designing systems in their schools. The learning and understanding from that, and the contribution of that discussion to reducing stigma, have all been great. If we design a scheme locally, we bring in local partners. Someone mentioned food banks, and we have talked about community centres. Designing a scheme by involving all kinds of different people is the way forward. That is crucial to us as a principle for the bill.
Does the rest of the panel agree that the benefit of legislation is that we can future proof the rights and build on the good practice that already exists?
I think so. The bill places a duty on people to make provision. That is something that we do not have now, so it is a massive step forward. We are reliant on other organisations doing it voluntarily. Locking in that duty will benefit a huge number of people and the impact will be immeasurable; I do not think that we will ever fully understand it. The local arrangements that are in place now are great. They are a positive step, but we recognise that there is lots more to do. The way forward is through legislative duty.
It is important that collection is from a regular place. If a person goes to their local library for pads, a dependency is created because they know that they can get their products there. If, after six months, that provision just stops, where do they go? It is important that provision is written in and continues so that we can support communities.
The point about local delivery is fantastic. The community champions—the women who drive around with their car boots full of menstruation products and deliver them to leisure centres, citizens advice bureaux and young mums groups—are absolutely amazing.
In higher education, we are supportive of the bill’s aims, with the caveat that I mentioned earlier about funding. We are fully behind the need to eradicate stigma and the barriers that we know prevent people from fully taking part in education.
I agree totally with my colleagues. We welcome the flexibility and scope for localism, which is really important. In the spirit of subsidiarity, decisions on local criteria for the scheme should be devolved to local bodies. For island communities, an impact assessment of the bill, if one has not already been done, would come to that same conclusion.
Another point that was raised by a couple of members and the panel, and in some of your written submissions, is that the bill provides that ministers could extend the duty to other public bodies. Sheena Stewart said that your students are not a homogeneous group, and that you have, for example, nursing students out on placement, so there is a challenge in getting products to them. I noticed that, in the Hey Girls submission, Celia Hodson picked up on the fact that the duty could extend to health boards. At the moment, there is an informal policy commitment from Government, but you have said that provision of free products in health boards is still uncommon and is often not supported by a budget commitment. That is an option for the Scottish ministers, so is it important for other public bodies, including the national health service, to do that? In my research, health boards said that they do not have a policy and that some nurses give their own products to patients. Do nursing students on placement struggle to access products, too?
It should be borne in mind that nursing students on placement go to a variety of clinical settings, some of which will be public NHS and some of which will be private sector. Under the scheme, universities allow provision to take place in a variety of ways, but I do not have detail of the range of ways. The university ensures that students have products whatever the setting, because we cannot guarantee that they will always be in public sector settings.
I would echo that. In my preparation for our submission, I spoke to North Ayrshire health and social care partnership. Its community link workers told me that they in local general practice across North Ayrshire they increasingly get requests for period products from patients, but there is no provision in GP surgeries. The community link workers asked me how they could access the provision that my service has for North Ayrshire. The sad story is that some of those employees have been buying products to give to patients. That should not be the case, and hits home on how big the problem. We do not really see it all—we just see the people who are brave enough to speak out and say that they need the products and do not have the means to get them. We have been helping to signpost people to where products are available in various buildings in North Ayrshire. There are a huge number of public bodies out there that could make a big difference.
We must come to a close, so can you make answers brief please?
I will be quick. It makes sense to develop place-based approaches to make every public body deliver, because people do not see a difference between a local government area and a health service area.12:30
I was in Aberdeen on Monday and spent time with Community Food Initiatives North East, which led the Government pilot scheme. I went back on Monday and people were queued up at the food bank, which was very distressing to see. However, on a positive note, CFINE is very proud of the work that it has done. There is interest not just in Scotland, but internationally. When that project began, CFINE was inundated by journalists from all over the world who were looking to Scotland to see what we are doing with the legislation. Councillor Evison talked about the cost of not passing the bill. What message would it send out if we, as the Scottish Parliament, were not to pass the bill?
Will you ask a question relating to the bill? Leave the press releases for later on.
If the bill is not passed, what message does that send?
We have perhaps already answered that. In terms of education and workplace productivity, the cost of not passing the bill would be huge. The benefit of increasing dignity is also huge, so in that sense, we need to do it. That is a quick answer.
We will finish there. I thank the panel very much for their time and their useful responses. Gail—I hope things were okay for you in Orkney.
They were absolutely fine, thank you.
Thank you for your patience.12:31 Meeting continued in private until 12:55.
18 December 2019
Second meeting transcript
Agenda item 2 is an evidence session on the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill. I welcome Aileen Campbell, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, and Dr Elaine Moir, who is the Scottish Government’s team leader on access to sanitary products and social innovation partnerships. I also welcome Monica Lennon MSP, who introduced the member’s bill. She will have the opportunity to ask a couple of brief questions once committee members have finished asking theirs.
I invite the cabinet secretary to make a brief opening statement.
The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government (Aileen Campbell)
Thank you, convener. Good morning and happy new year, everyone. I welcome the opportunity to set out the Government’s views on the bill. The Scottish ministers fully believe in the principle of ensuring that everyone who needs to access period products can do so. I am proud that we have taken significant—world-leading—action on the issue in the past two years, and that other countries, both within and outwith the United Kingdom, have sought our advice and what we have learned in considering their own actions.
It is clear that we are in the early stages of policy delivery and that we are in a rapidly developing situation. Innovative practices across sectors are evolving and, as a result, we are learning and changing what we and delivery partners do.
We need to remember that passing the bill would mean that the responsibility for the provision of period products would fall entirely to the state, which would make such products the only material item that the Scottish Government had a legal obligation to provide. We must consider carefully whether legislation is the best way of achieving the desired benefits.
I believe—and many of those who responded to the committee’s call for written evidence agree—that, before we consider whether legislation is needed, we should fully assess the outcomes, successes and shortfalls relating to current activity. That is one of the reasons why, when the opportunity was there in March last year, we did not commit to introducing our own legislation on the policy.
Throughout the bill and the wider supporting documents, Monica Lennon points out that she has given the Government flexibility in how to deliver on the requirements of the bill. However, the result of building in that flexibility is, unfortunately, a bill that contains little detail or clarity on the true policy intent, which makes it difficult for Parliament to assess. I know that many of those who support the principle of legislation are strongly opposed to the preliminary procedure for delivery that is proposed in section 3. Had the Scottish Government introduced a bill with such a provision, Opposition parties would have criticised the lack of clarity. Due to the vagueness of the provision, it would have been almost impossible to undertake our duty to carry out a statutory impact assessment, which is a task that members are not required to undertake for their bills.
We consider that it would be extremely challenging to meet the timeframes for putting in place a universal scheme, particularly given that there is little detail about how that could be done within 12 months of the bill receiving royal assent. As committee members noted in the first evidence session on the bill, the Scottish Government would have to conduct extensive consultation and planning before regulations could be drafted, let alone before any scheme could be implemented. All those things have not been done already because the bill provides that the detail of the universal scheme be set out in regulations rather than in the bill.
We consider that the proposed costs are underestimated. That is based on our estimation of the costs of the products that would be used, the delivery of a rights-based scheme and the uptake. I covered some of those issues in my letter to the committee, and I know that the committee raised some of the issues when it took evidence on the bill last month.
If Parliament passes the bill at stage 1, the Scottish ministers will be expected to introduce a financial resolution that commits to meeting the costs of implementation. I would have to introduce the financial resolution before the scheme was set out in regulation, but it is clear that the nature of the scheme would fundamentally impact on the cost. The lack of clarity poses significant challenges to understanding the likely cost to the public purse and, by extension, the level of future spend to which the Scottish ministers would be committed by introducing such a resolution. Although stage 1 is primarily for consideration of the principles of the bill, which we think are underdeveloped, the committee and the wider Parliament should consider the potential cost at this point.
To be clear, it is not that the Government disagrees with the need to ensure that period products are available to all women who need them; in fact, we have made huge progress in the past few years in meeting that aim. Around the country, almost 400,000 school pupils and college and university students are now benefiting from products that we fund, as are almost 60,000 people who are on low incomes. Products are being made available—again, through our action—by more than 20 public bodies and in public spaces such as libraries, community centres and sports clubs. The private sector is also beginning to act—without the need for legislation—with football clubs, pubs and even construction companies making products available for staff and visitors.
Guided by the principle of dignity, we have focused our efforts on those who would struggle to access products if we did not make them available. As a minister with responsibility for poverty, I consider that that is hugely important.
We know that there are still improvements to be made, and the policy continues to evolve, but we are beginning to see a culture change. There is a risk that introducing legislation now would encourage people to meet only minimum standards, when organisations in the public, private and third sectors are going above and beyond such standards.
Let me be clear: championing the need to ensure that period dignity exists across the country are not just warm words from me or the Government. We are delivering and investing in that right now without legislation. Through existing means, we can get further faster and achieve better outcomes for those who most need our help.
I look forward to your questions.
To a great extent, you have answered my question about whether there is a need for the bill. Is there nothing in the bill that the Scottish Government needs to achieve in the near future, or is it more appropriate that you wait to see how the existing provisions work?
Over the past couple of years, policies have adapted and become much more reflective of needs. They now respond to the needs of pupils in schools, for instance. You might suppose that the best way to deliver the policy would be to make products available in school toilets, but some children and young people said that they would rather not have that. Over the past two years, we have had to adapt and evolve what we do and how we do it.
There is more to do, and the Young Scot report that came out today points to areas in which we need to make improvements. We are not saying that what we have done is the end point or that we have finished making improvements. We continue to adapt, push and promote the policy.
Forby all the things that I have outlined today, we are engaging and working with international partners, including in Malawi and Rwanda. We are trying to do much more than the bill sets out as we meet the needs of women around the country and follow the principle of dignity.
You mentioned that flexibility is at the heart of what you are doing. If the bill was passed, there would be lots of different methods for getting access to the products. Would that add hugely to the cost?
As the bill is drafted, the c:card is a potential option, but it would end up being far too prescriptive. There has been benefit in our working with partners to develop, co-produce and see what works. That flexibility has been valued, which can be seen in the submissions to the committee and from the evidence that you have taken from folk. Flexibility is fundamental and underpins how we are working on this issue. We want the policy—underpinned by the principle of dignity—to meet the needs of the people who require the products, and for it to be delivered flexibly and without barriers. We have co-produced the guiding principles so that we have a framework that ensures all that.
Do you want to make any comments on—
The official reporters have asked for my speaking notes, but I would like to make sure that I can refer back to them. I will keep hold of them for now and make sure that they get my notes at the end, if that is okay.
We want you to do it without any speaking notes at all. [Laughter.]
I just want to have my record of what I said, in case somebody asks me a question about that.
Do you have any comments on the letter that Monica Lennon sent in response to your submission?
I met Monica Lennon to discuss the bill, and we were in agreement about a lot of it. As I said in my opening remarks, we agree that we should ensure that all people who are currently unable to access such products can do so. We are continuing to evolve and adapt our approach, and we are working on and co-producing our policy with groups, organisations and individuals, but the bill would not enable us to continue on that basis. We have been flexible, innovative and imaginative in developing our existing policy and there is a risk that that would be lost.
Obviously, the committee must decide how to proceed, but I point out that the costs of Monica Lennon’s approach are significant. We need to be mindful of that if we are to change our approach and adopt the proposed universal system. Our system has not been designed to be universal. We have already invested in putting products into schools and education settings, which is an approach that has been rolled out and is universally accessible by students in schools. We have also done work on targeting provision at people who require additional support. Again, I stress that the proposed legislative approach risks losing that flexibility and costs would increase.
However, I do not want to rule out the possibility of there being appropriate legislation in the future. At the moment, we consider that the bill is a bit premature, coming as it does at a time when we are continuing to adapt and evolve our policy. There is momentum behind that and the culture is changing. The danger is that, by imposing legislation, such progress would retreat, resulting in a lesser offer than we currently have.
I have one last question, after which a couple of my colleagues want to come in. Why is there such a huge discrepancy between the sets of costings?
Our assumptions have been made on the basis of there being a higher product cost, which is a much truer reflection of the current actual cost. Another reason for there being increased costs is the fact that our age range is wider than that which is used in Monica Lennon’s assumptions. Also, for education settings such as schools, our calculations have not been done on the basis of school terms or on the day lasting from 9 o’clock till 3 o’clock; instead, they are on the basis of ensuring that young people have access to such products 24 hours a day, seven days a week, over the course of a year. Our current approach, which is low on bureaucracy, is about ensuring that people can have direct access to products; it does not have additional bureaucratic or postage costs attached.
Taken together, those factors start to make the costs creep up, which is why they suddenly escalate in the way that we have pointed out. As a Government, we have to work through the costs and financial implications of any piece of legislation by making assessments and assumptions. Such an approach has formed the basis of our submission to the committee and that is why we have said that the costs stand to be much higher than those included in the financial memorandum attached to Monica Lennon’s bill.
Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
I just want some clarification. We all know where you are going with this policy, cabinet secretary. Do you consider the bill to be unnecessary because of all the innovations that are taking place at the moment? Alternatively, is it premature? Perhaps it would be inappropriate to progress legislation at this time and the matter should be delayed for a couple of years. In addition, is the bill too rigid in its approach, or does it lack detail or focus?
At this point, the bill is premature. Over the past two years, a lot has been quickly gained though our existing policy approach, which has involved working in partnership, co-producing, and listening and responding to the needs of individuals. The flexibility, momentum, drive and innovation that has come out of that good work are at risk.
Also, our policy is continually evolving, so people are still adapting what they do in order to respond to need. The risk is that the bill’s approach would be far too rigid. We would lose the flexibility that I have mentioned and the bill would not deliver on its aims, many of which Monica Lennon and I ultimately share. I do not want to rule out legislation in the future. However, at this point, we are better to continue to test, innovate and adapt what we do so that we can be surer of what works for people across the country. We can also ensure that we do that with the principles of dignity on which we have worked with partners to produce.10:00
On the issue of the financial memorandum, there is a disparity between the suggested costs for the products. If the costs associated with the bill were at the higher end—the £25 million or so that your submission suggests—what impact would that have on other budget areas in your portfolio?
That is the risk. It is also important to remember that they are not one-off costs; they are recurring costs that could increase over time. Young women and girls coming through school would be used to having access to the products and the associated promotion could lead to increased uptake. That is not wrong, but we have to take those considerations into account.
As we have outlined to the committee, given our assumptions and costings, which are a truer reflection of the current costs, the risk is that the bill costs could increase significantly. The money has to come from somewhere. We would need to make tough choices in the budget decisions that we take as a Government.
That is a difficult issue for us in Government. The work that Monica Lennon has done on her member’s bill and its principles—some of which we share—are to be welcomed. However, as the Government minister, I have to make budget choices; I have to make the budget stack up. I need to make sure that committee members are clear that we consider that there is a risk that the costs of the bill will increase significantly.
One of the suggestions in the bill is that people can receive the products on demand by post. How concerned are you about that proposal? It seems open ended. What might the costs be in relation to that? Conversely, if people are getting the products by post on demand, will there be an impact on, for example, small retailers who sell the products?
The Government has to take account of such matters. Before introducing legislation, we have to do business impact assessments. We would need to make sure that we factored in that aspect. We consider that the postage costs would be significant.
Again, we currently have a system with a low level of bureaucracy that delivers products directly in places where people can access them. It does so with innovation and flexibility and it meets the needs of many women. That does not lose sight of the fact of our need to make improvements and make sure that women, girls and anyone who requires the products can access them.
The cost of postage costs is another financial consideration that we need to factor in and we need to determine whether they are proportionate. That is especially true given that the proposal is for a rights-based universal scheme and the current system is not designed to deliver products on that basis.
That is point that I was going to make. Paragraph 5 of the bill’s policy memorandum states that one of the three underlying policy aims is
“to ensure that period products are made available free of charge on a universal basis”.
My original understanding was that it was a period poverty bill, to help people who could not afford to buy the products. There seems to be confusion over whether the bill is to provide for anyone and everyone to get the products as required or whether it is to assist people who are in period poverty. What is your view?
The lack of clarity makes it difficult for us to think about how we would implement it in the ways proposed, given that we know from practice that those are not how people want things to be delivered.
Again, I do not dispute Monica Lennon’s ambitions to make sure that people can access products with dignity—I share those, too—but there are problems with the legislation as drafted and we need to understand the financial implications. The big risk is that we would lose the good practice that we have quickly developed with partners over the past two years. That would be a big loss.
Ultimately, the flexible access to products that 400,000 pupils already have could be eroded and the support that 60,000 people in poverty get could be lost. There are a whole host of ways in which we might backtrack and detract from the good work that has been done so far in pursuit of legislation that might be too rigid.
Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)
Cabinet secretary, I am a little confused. You said that the bill is “premature”, but legislation might be required in the future. You did not say it would be required, but that it might be required. Under what circumstances could you envisage it being required?
I said that because we cannot rule out legislation in the future—it might be that it becomes necessary. I was making the point that it is not the principle of legislation that we are against. What we are against is the fact that the way the bill is drafted would not enable us to continue with the flexibility and innovation that we currently have. It could be that we will never need legislation if the current momentum and culture change continue and we continue to adapt provision.
The point is that we are not against legislation per se: rather, we feel that the principles and detail in the bill lack clarity. The bill does not have the right financial assumptions and has universal application, which we think might erode the current flexibility and innovation.
So, you are not against legislation.
I am just not ruling legislation out. I would not want to rule it out; that might not be for me to decide. What I am saying is that we have a system that is developing and evolving, and which is innovative and flexible, and is delivering for people. We would not want to lose that through a bill that could, as drafted, erode that system.
Let me summarise what I think your view is, then you can tell me whether I am right. You think that there is a lot of good work going on, which there is. There is no doubt about that. Given that that good work is going on in the public sector and in the private sector, you think that there is not, at the moment, a need to legislate because things are happening anyway. Is that a fair summary?
Yes—absolutely. There is lots of great work—not just in the public and third sectors, but in the private sector—in terms of culture change and the momentum behind it, and in driving the change forward with innovation, flexibility and responsiveness to individuals’ needs. The work continues to adapt and evolve.
At this point in time, if we lost that flexibility, what would we be legislating for? At the moment, we have to change what we do, so we might have assumed, as I said, that the best way to deliver the initiative is through toilets, but we know that some young people in schools have said that they do not want that. We have to respond to their needs, which is why we continue to test, co-produce and work out better ways to make sure that we get the products to people who require them.
At this point, that would potentially be lost with legislation that could be too rigid and lacking in flexibility. It could, ultimately, cost a lot of money and not deliver as well as we are currently delivering through the good work, partnership and sense of duty that many people are showing in order to ensure that Scotland can claim to be a world leader on the issue.
The bill would get a Government minister to set regulations that would mean that public sector bodies, including councils and schools, would have to operate a scheme. There would be a cost to them that the Government would have to fund, under the bill. Are you aware of any other legislation that has created a cost for public bodies that the Government must fund?
No, I do not think so. That is where we think the financial memorandum is flawed. The assumptions in the financial memorandum are not correct and the cost stands to be significantly higher than what is outlined. We are currently working with our partners across the public and third sectors—we are supporting them financially and delivering for people. The question of proportionality needs to be considered. If we increase the cost and do not deliver the outcomes that we currently deliver, is legislation the right approach to the issue? At this point in time, I do not think so.
I, too, think that the bill is pretty unique.
You mentioned that the drafting of the bill is quite vague in parts: it is. We can explore that with Monica Lennon next week.
Section 8, which is entitled “Payments by Scottish Ministers”, says:
“The Scottish Ministers may make such payments as they think appropriate to the councils, bodies, persons and education providers obliged by or under this Act to make period products available free of charge.”
That is all very vague. It means that any future Government could change its mind about what it thinks is appropriate. I am simply making a point that you can respond to, if you like. As the bill is currently written, a scheme could be set up and the Government could decide not to fund it. Do you agree with that?
That is also how I read the bill.
The fundamental point that I have made many times is that we are currently delivering a huge amount; we are delivering positive outcomes. The culture is changing and there is momentum behind that. It would be a real pity were that to be lost in pursuit of legislation that could erode a lot of what has been done and cost a lot more.
Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)
Is that about the design or the principle of the bill? You think that the bill is far too tightly designed and far too detailed, but you have made financial comments about the difficulty of predicting how much the bill would cost and its not being detailed enough.
Some of the financial costs are wrong—they do not reflect the current situation. We believe that the 9p unit cost should be 17p, so we can quickly say that that is inaccurate and does not reflect the current cost of delivery.
We can point to other problems. The c:card scheme has been mentioned: people who have given evidence to the committee have said that they would not like to see a similar scheme in place, and submissions that the committee has received say the same.
The bill has come at a time when we are evolving and adapting what we do to respond to needs, and so that we can be much clearer and more certain about delivery mechanisms that respond to individuals’ needs. A scheme has been suggested that probably would not work. In other matters, it is left to the Government to come up with a scheme. There is not the detail on that that is needed in the bill. Under the bill the Government would have to come up with a flexible scheme that delivers, but we are currently doing that. We are delivering products with flexibility and innovation to people who require them in the here and now.
I responded to Graham Simpson’s question about legislation. The bill is not required at this point in time. If there is to be legislation at any point in the future, it would be far better to ensure that we know what we are doing and that we understand clearly what works and where we can ensure that flexibility is maintained, and then—
I am trying to tease things out. It is clear that you think that, in principle, the bill is premature.
Yes. I think that it is unnecessary, at this point in time.
So, the bill is not needed, at the moment. I am trying to tease out the principles relating to the balance of the top line of the bill, and noting the fact that the Scottish Government would be required to regulate and decide the details so that the bill would give the flexibility that you are keen to have in terms of outputs, rather than inputs.
The bill includes a universal scheme, based on rights, so taking away the universal element or some of the other proposals would change the bill dramatically—in fact, it would wreck it. If flexibility in the delivery of products is what is being asked of Government, that is what we are providing.10:15
As flexibility is, localism is a key issue—
We are delivering localism, too.
Localism enables various organisations to do work on the issue at different levels. Again, that is up to the current players, so that could stop at any time.
Yes, but what we are seeing at the moment is not a retreat but an expansion, with more organisations doing more than has ever been done before. There is a real drive to deliver products and to do so in a way that meets the needs of individuals, which is long overdue. That is what is at risk of being lost.
We are being asked to ensure that the products are delivered flexibly, with localism, in a way that enables organisations to adapt what they do. That is what is happening currently. I guess that the question is this: what is the legislation adding, and is the cost proportionate? At the moment, the bill will cost far more than is set out in the financial memorandum, and much more than we are currently spending, but will not deliver as much as is being delivered at the moment.
Is there anything in the bill that you think would be worth legislating on, or is that a debate that you would rather have in the future?
Again, I go back to the point that, at the moment, we are developing and evolving policy approaches, and we are delivering for individuals here and now, with flexibility. That is at risk of being lost, so I do not think that I can support the bill.
Could you support any aspects of it?
We do not object to some of Monica Lennon’s policy ambitions. We have talked about it and we share much of that aspiration. However, the bill, as drafted, would erode the good work that is happening already.
Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)
I have a number of questions on the principles. All the witnesses who have spoken to us support the bill and feel that there is a need for legislation. You will be aware that you are representing the executive branch of the Government and that we are a committee of the legislature, and that our job is to pass laws for the people of Scotland. The work that you are doing is commendable and has been widely welcomed. However, the point of legislation is to guarantee to the people whom we represent that Government will do certain things, and that they have certain rights. Therefore, I want to question you further on the need for legislation.
Everyone who has given oral evidence supports the bill. Do you not therefore see that there is a benefit to be had from underpinning in law the principles under which you are currently delivering, and from guaranteeing that the work that you are doing will continue and will not be abandoned, irrespective of which Government comes in after the 2021 elections? Do you see that there is a case for giving a legal guarantee in that regard, so that young girls will know that, when they leave school in 10 years or whatever, the provision will still exist?
Again, I say that the provisions in the bill risk losing the flexibility that we are delivering at the moment. The danger is that the good work that you have commended—the co-production, our responsiveness to individuals, the fact that our approach is building momentum that is encouraging a culture change across Scotland—will be lost, and we would regress back to a baseline that is not as flexible.
We have committed to baselining the funding to local government. I do not think that the situation that Andy Wightman described is likely to arise. We might have to legislate in the future, but I think that we have, at this point in time, an opportunity to ensure that we can work out the best ways to deliver effectively through working in partnership without the need for legislation. We want to ensure that the policy is something that the country can feel proud of and will continue to deliver.
The fact that all that has been done without legislation is valuable. I do not want to risk losing the flexibility, good will and partnership in order to pursue legislation for legislation’s sake.
No one is pursuing legislation for legislation’s sake. You suggest that that is happening, but I do not think that it is. The purpose of the bill is to give statutory underpinning to a scheme that provides period products to people who need them.
Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
That is an opinion.
However, people do not want the suggested mechanisms.
That is fine: we can talk about how the bill could be amended. You mentioned that you have guaranteed that the funds will be baselined, but you cannot make any guarantees beyond the next election. We have asked ministers who have appeared before the committee to make such guarantees, and they have said that they cannot. Do you not understand how a young woman at school would benefit from the Parliament giving her a guarantee that in 10 years the scheme that currently provides period products will still be in operation? [Interruption.] Excuse me. Otherwise, she must live with the risk that, at the ballot box—when she does not yet have a vote—a Government is returned that does not continue to support the scheme.
Legislation can be repealed, as you well know.
We have a system that has been developed without legislation, through partnership working, good will, good work and engagement. I believe that that will continue, and that it has fundamentally changed the culture in Scotland. Young people who are coming through school will experience the current access to products. That will continue to grow and will not go the other way that Andy Wightman has described. The legislation will erode the flexibility and destroy some of the localism that members have said is important. I would prefer to work on the basis of partnership—co-producing with women and people across the country, to ensure that what we deliver works for them—than to be wedded to legislation that is too rigid and does not have flexibility.
The non-legislative route delivers better outcomes, quicker and faster. Over the past two years, my focus has been on delivering now to the young people whom Andy Wightman talked about, without the requirement for legislation. In doing so, we are changing culture, attitudes and minds—so much so that people in other countries around the world are looking to Scotland to see whether they can use the same approach.
I will focus on flexibility. You made it clear that you consider that the bill would erode the flexibility that you currently have to deliver the scheme.
Given that the bill would mandate ministers to introduce a scheme, there should be plenty of flexibility on how it is designed. The bill would give ministers the power to create a scheme, and they would be free to make that scheme as flexible as they liked, so which bits of the bill would inhibit your flexibility?
Section 2(1) asks us to
“make a scheme .... to set out and regulate”
how period products will be delivered. That would inhibit some of the flexibility that we have.
The bill asks us to set out in regulation what we want to do. If the way in which something is delivered flexibly in a particular area does not meet the needs of the bill, that would inhibit what people might want to do.
Plenty of schemes that are flexible in how they are delivered come through Parliament in secondary legislation.
The bill asks us to set out in regulation what we need to do. Our doing that before we have tested and worked through the different approaches that schools and organisations are taking might stop some of the creativity.
If you are saying that the bill asks you to set the scheme out before you undertake it, that is a separate question.
If we were to prescribe the scheme within regulation, that would limit the actions that we could take.
Yes, but that would also provide a guarantee that users will have a scheme.
Okay—we can agree to differ. If the current ask of the Government is to deliver a scheme flexibly, that is what we are doing.
I understand that.
I want to move on to the question of rights. Do you agree that everyone who needs sanitary products should have access to them as of right?
Everyone understands—as a woman, I understand—that not having access to such products inhibits young people from going to school to get an education, which inhibits their rights to access education and have a decent standard of living. The rights issue is particularly pertinent. The First Minister’s advisory group is trying to look at rights much more strategically and some of this might be more appropriately handled through that approach. At this point in time, we are taking a rights-based approach to working with women and other individuals to understand how we can meet their requirements.
Alongside that, we are also trying to make sure that those who cannot afford to access products are supported and do not have the indignity of going without because of poverty.
I am not clear whether that was a yes or a no. Do you agree that everyone who needs to use period products has the right to have them free of charge? Do you or do you not agree that they should have that right?
At this point in time, we are taking a rights-based approach and focusing—
I know that you are saying that you are taking that approach. What I am asking is whether you believe that people should have that right.
We are trying to target our work appropriately so that women who cannot access products have the right to access them—
I understand what you are doing, but—
We are going around in circles here. You have asked the same question three times.
I think that I am entitled to an answer.
The ability to interact, to go to work, to be educated and to have a decent standard of living can be inhibited if people are unable to access and purchase products. We are funding and supporting people who are in poverty to get access to these products. We are taking a strategic rights-based approach through the First Minister’s advisory group.
Okay. I do not know whether you believe that people should have the rights that I am asking about. However, I point out that Scottish National Party policy says:
“SNP council therefore believes every woman should have access to sanitary products, as of right.”
At least we know what the SNP position is, even if we do not know what the Scottish Government position is.
You talk about the difficulties of a universal scheme and say that if it a requires a specific opt-in, it is not really universal. What do you mean by that?
That was our response to the potential to deliver the scheme using a c:card-type mechanism. The opt-in would have caused a barrier to universal access. I know that Monica Lennon stepped away from that as a potential mechanism. That was why we said that in our submission.
You believe that, in general, an opt-in scheme is not a universal scheme.
We made that point in relation to the proposed c:card-type mechanism that was outlined in the bill. We did not agree with that because we did not think that a universal scheme could be delivered through an opt-in scheme. That did not make sense to us. Such a scheme would create additional barriers that would inhibit people’s access to products. That was the point that we were making.
Okay, so your point relates only to a c:card-type scheme—that is fine. Is the Scottish Government’s baby box scheme a universal scheme?
Is it not the case that that scheme requires a specific opt-in?
People can get a baby box but they do not have to take it.
People are offered it, but some people do not receive the offer because they do not attend antenatal classes, for example, and may miss the opportunity.
Or they do not take up the offer.10:30
Indeed. There is an opt-in, so entitlement is universal, but the scheme is not universal. Do you accept that the bill proposes to provide universal access to a scheme that is based on the principle of a universal entitlement to period products?
What is set out is not clear. I go back to the point that the scheme that we are already delivering is not based on universal access. I accept that the bill will provide for universal access. However, we are taking a more targeted approach to deliver universal access to people in education settings with a flexibility that I do not think that the bill provides.
I move on to costs. In response to Graham Simpson, you mentioned that there would be the obvious recurring costs, and that demand may increase those costs over time. However, is that not the case with your scheme? The public sector is incurring costs, and expectations have been created that the products will be available broadly in broadly the same way. No doubt, people will want the products to continue to be available, and uptake might increase. Is there any difference between the existing scheme and the scheme as envisaged in the bill with regard to the fact that costs may increase over time?
Yes, there is a difference. The financial memorandum figures are based on a low unit cost, which does not reflect—
That is a separate point. I am asking about the increase, whatever the costs are now—
And my response is that the costs will increase. They have already increased, because the cost that the financial memorandum sets out is too low—
That is not my question. The answer that you gave to Graham Simpson was that the cost to the Scottish budget is not one-off but recurring. Let us set aside the actual cost—I understand that you have a different view on that point—and look at whether it would increase over years. What is the difference between your scheme and a scheme under the bill? Surely there is the potential for costs to increase over time under both schemes?
Yes. They would increase—
That is fine.
—but we also—
I ask Andy Wightman to draw his questioning to a close, as he has heard more than enough.
There is more to say. When we work in partnership, there is more control. Also, we want women and girls, and anyone who requires products, to be able to access them. The issue is not that we want to limit access.
The committee needs to consider ensuring that uptake is assessed financially, so that the correct assumptions are made in order to meet the costs. The costs are recurring, and the unit costs are a factor because they are currently set too low; they will be higher in comparison with those that have been set out in the financial memorandum. The scheme is universal, so further bureaucracy would be attached to it. There is a host of ways in which the recurring costs, such as postage costs, would increase.
Our scheme involves low levels of bureaucracy. It delivers directly to schools and other areas that are used by the public in a way that responds to what people have told us they require. The costs of what we are doing may increase, but under the scheme in the bill, we would not have the control that we have at the moment. We would need to do a bit more work on that, and the committee would need to give a lot more consideration to the costs.
My final question—
When you talk about the costs, are you focusing on the costs that are to be placed on the Scottish Government?
The bill provides for education providers, for example, to provide free products, but it does not say that the Scottish Government must pay for them.
The evidence to the committee suggested that the costs would have to be fully funded.
The evidence might have suggested that, but I am talking about the bill. As Graham Simpson noted, section 8 states:
“The Scottish Ministers may make such payments as they think appropriate”.
Ministers are not mandated to do so, but the bill places a duty on education providers, for example—[Interruption.] I wish that other members who want to make comments would do so in their own time.
We would, if we had some time.
Can we stop this nonsense and have fewer comments from off-stage, please? I ask Andy Wightman to draw to a close.
I just want some clarification. The bill appears to say that Scottish ministers may provide such payments as they consider appropriate to support the schemes, but it also places a legal duty on education providers, for example, which they will have to pay for if the Scottish Government does not contribute any funding. Do you agree that that is what the bill says?
I think that, in reality, those costs would land on the Government.
I am not asking about the reality—I am asking you what the bill says.
Thank you—that is enough.
I will pick up on some of the issues that have been raised. This morning, Holyrood magazine’s daily news round-up highlighted the report on the Young Scot survey on the availability of period products. It found that almost 84 per cent of the two thirds of young women and girls in Scotland who had received free period products from their school, college or university in the past year said that the initiative had had a “positive impact”. Almost nine in 10 said that, as a result, they were
“less worried about having their period.”
Given that such a response is what we all want—keeping in mind the bigger picture, irrespective of the detail—that is a tremendous accolade for the Scottish Government’s work. It is about delivering for people and not getting bogged down in the process stuff.
However, I turn now to the process stuff, as we must. I raised some of these points in a previous evidence session in December. First, it strikes me that the bill appears to outsource key provisions that we would expect it to contain, such as a proposal for the delivery mechanism or scheme that is to be employed. The bill suggests a voucher scheme, but that is not going down well with stakeholders; that type of scheme seems to be a no-no and has been discredited.
We have the proposed legislation, but there is no heart to it. That might cause a lot of problems with regard to how we envisage what will happen and estimate the costs—I will come to that in a minute. Cabinet secretary, is it your understanding, from your experience of dealing with all manner of legislation, that we are looking at a bill that has no core because the key provisions are outsourced?
Yes. Again, I highlight that the bill stands to undo some of the good work that we have already done. We can see evidence of the results of that work in the Young Scot report, in which young women talk about the positive impact that it has had on their experience in education and on their mental health, which has allowed them to continue with their day-to-day activities.
The bill would not enable us to deliver as we are currently doing, which raises the question of what its purpose is. We need to think in particular about the costs that are associated with the bill, and about whether it is worthwhile progressing with an approach that involves higher costs and potentially stands to deliver poorer outcomes, as opposed to progressing with our current approach, which is—as has been emerging from studies such as the Young Scot report—delivering positive outcomes for people across the country.
The technical and cost issues arise from the bill’s initial provision, which was referred to earlier. Section 1 states:
“Everyone in Scotland who needs to use period products has the right under this Part to obtain them free of charge.”
In the light of what has been said, it appears that the Scottish Government’s current approach is—as we hear from Young Scot—delivering on the ground, day to day on the broad objective that the bill seeks to achieve. I understand from what the cabinet secretary said that the Scottish Government’s approach targets those who need help with the cost of such products or in accessing them through the school roll-out. That seems be the key difference in approach. The Scottish Government’s approach is to look at those who need help vis-à-vis access or cost.
In contrast, the bill’s approach is to say that, as a matter of law, every person in Scotland who needs to use period products can have free access. There is a fundamental difference between a targeted approach to delivering those products on the ground and a general statement that everyone who wants such products can access them whenever they want to—including, as we have heard, by post; we might come to that in a minute.
Our approach is far more targeted. Free period products are accessible to pupils and students in schools; that provision is not means tested in any way. We also work with local authorities to make period products available in specific public places, on the understanding that they will be accessible to people who need them more. We have invested in the FareShare scheme, which targets people in poverty, to support individuals who struggle with day-to-day costs more generally and those who struggle to meet the cost of buying period products specifically.
Setting out those important parameters leads us to the fundamental issue of the estimated cost. As has been mentioned, the financial memorandum states that the cost is about £9.7 million per annum. Monica Lennon made some revisions to that figure in her recent letter to the committee, but it is in the financial memorandum that is before us. In response, the Scottish Government has said that, taking into account the actual unit cost and the purchase and sourcing of the products, together with other additional costs, it would be looking at a total estimated cost of £24.1 million per annum rather than £9.7 million per annum. There is therefore already a huge divergence in cost.
I would like some clarification. My understanding is that, in addition to the Scottish Government’s estimate, we are looking at set-up costs—we do not know what those are—as well as the on-going cost of postage, which has been mentioned. As a direct result of the language used in section 1 of the bill, which I quoted earlier, there would have to be a mechanism to ensure that that so-called “right” could be enforced. There would also have to be an appeals procedure—I speak as a lawyer; I cannot help it—so that people who felt that their right was not being respected could challenge that. Cost estimates would have to be written in for that process as well.
My understanding—correct me if I am wrong—is that the Government’s estimate of £24.1 million per annum is probably quite a bit lower than the amount that would actually be required, at least during the first few years as the scheme was set up and everything was sorted out. On-going costs are on-going costs, whatever baseline you start from. If we start by underestimating the costs by at least 50 per cent, if not more, the on-going costs will be considerably higher than if we got the baseline right at the outset, Mr Wightman—
I remind members that we should direct our points to the cabinet secretary.
Even the figure of £24.1 million is an underestimate of what the total cost would be.
That could potentially be the case, given the additional factors that you outlined. We certainly believe that the estimated annual running cost of £0.9 million is not an accurate or true reflection of the actual costs. As I have said, our experience of delivering these products in schools has shown that the actual costs are higher than the suggested unit costs. In addition, our assumptions would need to be based on a wider age range, and we would be delivering access 24/7, 365 days a year, rather than limiting provision to school terms. We are delivering far more flexibility that responds far more to people’s needs than the scheme that is envisaged in the legislation. As awareness of the scheme increases, so will uptake, which will increase costs.
In our assessment, if there was a 5 per cent increase over the next session of Parliament, the total cost could be around £80 million.
I am sorry—can you say that again?
The potential cost could be around £80 million, assuming a 5 per cent increase each year. I have to caveat that as only an assessment of the potential cost, based on our estimate of £24.1 million as a reflection of the true cost, but a 5 per cent increase in uptake every year over the next session of Parliament could lead to a cost of £80 million. That is just an example of how the costs could escalate.10:45
I want to pick up on some other points that have already been raised. My understanding of the evidence that the committee has received is that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has made it clear that it would expect the proposal to be 100 per cent funded by the Scottish Government. Is that your understanding?
I took great notice of what was said in evidence to the committee. It is anticipated that the Government would be expected to meet the costs.
Those costs are already much higher than £9.7 million per annum. Because of the slightly confused approach of the bill, it seems that, at this stage, there is no way of fully estimating what the costs could rack up to be.
Can we have a question, please, Annabelle?
In asking my final question, I want to go back to a point that was raised earlier. Even if we took a figure of £30 million, which we could arrive at by adding to the £24.1 million figure the set-up costs, the cost of an appeal mechanism and so forth, where would that money come from in your budget? Where would money be taken from in the next budget to allow that £30 million to be spent?
My budget is not as big as those of many of my Cabinet colleagues. We have a fairly low resource departmental expenditure limit budget. To put things into context, we have £50 million to deliver the child poverty action plan over the years of that plan. Given that we are talking about a one-off cost of £24 million, that shows the level of ask and demand across my budget and suggests that things might need to be looked at. I am not saying that that is where the money would come from; I am just providing a bit of context by pointing out that £50 million has been attached to the delivery of the child poverty action plan over the years of that plan, and here we are talking about a one-off cost of £24 million, along with recurring costs every year.
That was your last question, Annabelle.
It would be a tough and difficult choice. The money would have to come from somewhere. If the aim of the bill is to deliver local flexibility, we are already doing that.
Given witnesses’ concerns that, without legislation, the current funding could be removed, what are your plans to ensure the longevity of your current policy of free provision?
As I said, we have baselined that into the funding for local government.
You said that it was your preference for the bill not to proceed and that you could continue to develop your current programme through innovation and flexibility. Rolling forward from the work that you have done so far, what are your current plans for the next phase of analysis over the next few years? Have you identified any particular groups of people who are not getting access to period products because of cost and so on? Where are the gaps in the current provision?
We intend to do analysis and assessment work in March to understand what impact the community element of the work that we are doing is having and how that is developing. That will give us a far better understanding of what more we need to do. Today’s Young Scot report talks about some of the improvements that are required and some of the areas that we need to concentrate on.
On developing the policy more generally, we are working with Hey Girls to develop an app to ensure that people understand where they can access products. We will also launch a campaign very shortly that is about tackling the stigma around periods. Those are illustrations of what we are doing.
We are proud of what we are doing, but it is not the end point. We continue to push on what we can do on the issue of poverty and use that as a hook to articulate some of the challenges around the stigma associated with poverty. That is why we are undertaking the campaign and why we are continuing to work with Hey Girls on the app to ensure that people can access the products.
A key issue in the evidence that has been given to us is that, although there is lots of innovative work and lots of provision in schools and in further and higher education, there are still major challenges for people on low incomes.
That is why we have provided funding for local authorities, to ensure that people can access the products in public places such as libraries. The products have also started to be made available in workplaces, and we have engaged with our public bodies to ensure that they meet the requirements of the policy intent. However, I accept that more work is required. That is why we will assess the position in March, why we continue to look at the impact in education settings and will publish a report on that, why we continue to work with Hey Girls to ensure that people have a keener sense of where they can access products, and why we will undertake a campaign around period stigma.
Another element of that work is that, along with Marine Scotland, we funded Zero Waste Scotland to do work on reusable products to ensure that they are available, accessible and understood. I think that I mentioned that we are also working in Malawi and Rwanda, with which we have international development relationships, to ensure that women there can access products, too. The issue is therefore far bigger and broader than the legislation. In any case, regardless of the outcome of the discussion on the legislation, we will share the assessment and reporting with the committee.
Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Cabinet secretary, although lots of matters have been discussed this morning, the opening gambit was about where we are, what we want to achieve and how the bill might or might not support us to create the provision that we want. You talked about your current scheme’s accessibility and flexibility, but you also talked in your opening statement about the risk of “minimum standards” compared to the current scheme’s provision of a range of quality products, with which the majority of people are happy. We have discussed the likelihood of costs changing and the possible effects on the quality of products if the scheme had a larger scope. If the bill ensured universal provision, do you envisage cost increases affecting the quality of products?
There is every chance of that happening, which would be regrettable. When I visited the University of Edinburgh, I saw a variety of well-known brands of products alongside reusable products that are new to the market. The intent of that provision is to ensure that people can shift towards those newer products—for example, Mooncups and reusable pads—although they have higher, one-off costs. That variety of products is already being distributed across many different institutions. In many respects, it would be a pity if that variety was lost because of the cost issue.
The variety could well suffer as an incidental consequence of our trying to broaden the horizons and create more access. None of us wants to see that, because we want the quality and the process to be there. When we took evidence from Hey Girls and others, they talked about the reusable products and told us that, although there is not a high uptake at present, if and when people start to use them that dimension will change and they will be content to deal with that.
Nevertheless, there needs to be some kind of process to ensure that there is an understanding across the piece, so that individuals feel comfortable in moving to such products. You have identified that some people are trying to do that through sharing experience, for example, or through a scheme that provides some understanding. Although the provision that is available may continue to cause barriers, changing and trying to enhance the provision might also jeopardise some of the process.
I think I recognise the risk that you are pointing out, and the committee will need to consider that risk when it deliberates on the legislation. As I said, we are working with Marine Scotland and Zero Waste Scotland to amplify the messages around the reusable products and the need to think more sustainably about which products are used. That is good work, although it sometimes jars for people who are living in poverty, for whom that might not be an immediate consideration. We are having to do a number of things at the moment. We are trying different things, working with various partners and really exploring what more we can do, which is why the flexibility that we currently have and the culture change that we are beginning to see are really valuable. We can start to share that good practice and understand that knowledge.
Are you saying that elements of the bill jeopardise some of that?
I would say so, yes. Potentially, the flexibility and all of those things could be undermined. I do not think that that is the intention, but that is what could happen.
That could be a consequence. Okay. Thank you.
Cabinet secretary, if the delivery of period products to those people who most need them could best be secured through legislation, would the Scottish Government, with the resources that are available to it, not have introduced its own bill, given its continuing work in the area?
As I said in my opening remarks, we decided not to adopt the bill because at the time we thought that it was better to work through some of the delivery models and different partners that we could work with, to ensure that we have the flexibility to use different products and to work through the range of different policy areas in terms of sustainability, dignity and all those things. We decided not to adopt the bill because we felt that the flexibility—the parameters that we can work within at the moment—is far more valuable.
So, legislation is inappropriate at this point, whether it comes from the Scottish Government or from anyone else.
I would say so, given the risks that I have outlined and the cost implications, which are significant and will not necessarily deliver better outcomes. I think that we all share Monica Lennon’s aspiration and recognise the huge amount of work that has been done by so many organisations and individuals across the country, which enables Scotland to say that it is currently a world leader in this policy area. However, we have done that without legislation and we have delivered positive results, as has been articulated through the Young Scot report today. That does not take anything away from the fact that we need to do more and that there are other areas that we need to work on. Nevertheless, in a short space of time we have delivered a huge amount and have achieved a great deal with investment, and we are tackling some issues that other countries have not faced up to.
Monica Lennon would like to ask a couple of questions.11:00
Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Thank you, convener. It has been a helpful session. I have a couple of questions and then some remarks for the cabinet secretary.
Although there has been fantastic progress—I am glad that the cabinet secretary is committed to that continuing—other members have touched on the fact that there are gaps out there and people still find themselves in period poverty.
I will pick up on the education settings, because what we have heard about today is universal access for anyone in education. We know from the evidence that we have heard that not only pupils and students but staff and visitors to campuses can access the products. The cabinet secretary said that she intends that access to be provided on a 24/7 basis—we know that there are holiday packs and that people can get products outwith term time. Is it fair to say that what we have currently in the education sector is a universal scheme?
In an education setting.
So, anyone in school, college or university benefits from universal entitlement.
Yes, they can access the products if they want to.
We know that there are probably schools that require more support, which is why there is a requirement for us to continue to share good practice and to work with authorities in school settings to make sure that all young people are able to have that access.
Does anyone in Scotland benefit from a legal right to access period products?
There is provision in prison settings. There is legislation for that, which I think the committee discussed at one of its sessions.
You are correct in saying that prisoners have a legal right of access to period products. If that is well established in the prison setting, why would a transition from the current scheme for people in education to a scheme that gives them the same legal right not work at this time?
I do not think that the bill is necessarily about that; it is about universal provision beyond education settings. I think there is provision in the bill—
I am referring to the part of the bill that deals with education. The universal scheme is different from the duty in education settings.
Sure, but there is provision at this point without legislation, through flexibility.
The bill also talks about having products in toilets. We know from some pupils that they do not want to have access to products through toilets at this point, although that situation might change as cultures change and awareness develops. I understand the point that you are trying to make.
You have also underestimated the cost implications. We understand the intent, and we know that it is sometimes tough to draft members’ bills, but the costs that you have put estimated are not reflective of the actual costs.
At the moment, we are delivering access to pupils and students in education settings without the need for legislation. We are delivering positive outcomes, as outlined in the Young Scot report that was published today. We are doing all of that in partnership and in co-production with young people, education partners and local authorities.
Do you accept that the bill is trying to future proof that right and to lock in all that good work for the future?
Potentially, it would lock in an inflexible system.
I did not say that the current system is inflexible.
No, but the bill could potentially erode some of its flexibility, such that it could lock in and future proof an inflexible system that would not deliver the outcomes that we are delivering within the current cost envelope. We are delivering a huge amount without the bureaucracy and red tape that the bill could end up delivering.
We do not dispute the aspiration of the proposed legislation, but I do not think that it would deliver what you have articulated, and I think that it has the potential to lock in a system that is inflexible.
I do not have a lot of time in which to ask questions, so I will move on.
The bill is meant to alleviate period poverty not just for people in education but for anyone in Scotland who experiences financial barriers or is affected by period poverty. Evidence was taken from people who have health conditions such as endometriosis. Some women find that their need for products changes during the perimenopausal phase, so they might need temporary assistance and not just a monthly supply. How do current schemes help women in that situation?
That goes back to the point that, when we assess the community part of our actions, we can assess good practice. Some authorities are delivering block supplies, so people can access more than a couple of products at a time. There is really good practice that shows that that is working. Again, we might need to do a bit more work on that, but that is why, in March, we are carrying out an assessment of the community element of what we are delivering. We want to understand and share good practice so that we continue to meet the needs of individuals who might require more products at particular times.
Does the Government intend to do more to ensure that people who need a monthly supply can be provided with one, whether it is just some of the time or more frequently? Are you working towards that as part of the Government’s commitment?
There are good examples of local authorities providing that service already, and we might need to share that good practice. Women and other people are being supported in accessing more than just a couple of products now and again, because there is an understanding that there is sometimes a requirement to access more than that.
There has been a lot of discussion about what people perceive the bill to do and not do, and about the desire for maximum flexibility. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the bill would give ministers maximum flexibility in how they would set up the statutory scheme? The voucher scheme has been talked about as an s:card scheme or as being based on the c:card model, which Andy Wightman pointed out was SNP policy from 2016. Do you agree that the bill does not mandate such a scheme? That idea was put forward as an option, but it could easily be taken out of the bill by amendment.
We have been asked to deliver flexibility and to allow for local discretion in how that might look, and that is what we are doing currently. I understand what you are saying: that the c:card scheme—or whatever we want to call the voucher scheme—could be taken out of, or amended in, the bill. However, fundamentally, that is what the legislation that is before us articulates, and it is not what folk want.
I have one final, very brief question—
The SNP might have passed a motion a number of years ago with good intent, but that might have been done without the experience and knowledge of working and co-producing with women and without understanding the barriers that might be put up. That is why that is not our chosen route and why we have not done that. It is regrettable that the bill includes that provision, which women do not want. I do not think that there is any dispute about the aspiration and vision, but, ultimately, because of the way in which the bill has been drafted, it will not necessarily deliver in the way that we are delivering for people across the country in the here and now.
I have one last question—I know that the committee needs to move on. I note the shift away from universalism, but are there any circumstances in which the Scottish Government could support the bill following further amendments and discussion? We are trying to get to the same place, as we want to alleviate period poverty and improve access to period products.
I do not think that we disagree on the aspiration and on what we want to achieve. However, the bill would not deliver the outcomes that we are currently delivering for people across the country. There are real risks that we would undo some of the good work and that the costs are likely to increase significantly. Such decisions will be for the committee to consider, but those are real risks.
I need to decide whether to support a bill that would cost us more and not deliver the outcomes that we are currently delivering or to continue to progress with the action that we are taking and the investment that is delivering results, as is outlined in the Young Scot report. On balance, I do not support the bill, because we are delivering better outcomes for people across the country.
Cabinet secretary, I have one question and one ask for you. You talked about a 5 per cent increase perhaps leading to a cost of £80 million—
I would caveat that. If there was a 5 per cent increase in uptake, year on year, over the next parliamentary session, that would—
I was just wondering whether we could see those workings.
If you could send them to the committee, that would be helpful.
You talked about period products being made available in places such as libraries and community centres. What sort of publicity will go with that? Are you intending to ramp that up?
We are going to run a more general campaign to tackle stigma. That is the premise of our working with Hey Girls to develop the app so that people can understand where they can access products. There will be lots of local work. For example, I am aware that, in my constituency, the local authority is promoting and highlighting where things are happening. That is why we are going to embark on work with Hey Girls around the app so that people can understand where they can access products.
Okay. Cabinet secretary and Dr Moir, thank you very much for attending today’s evidence session on the bill.
I suspend the meeting to allow a changeover of witnesses.11:11 Meeting suspended.
11:15 On resuming—
8 January 2020
18 December 2019
8 January 2020
Delegated Powers and Law Reform committee
This committee looks at the powers of this Bill to allow the Scottish Government or others to create 'secondary legislation' or regulations.
Read the Stage 1 report by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform committee published on 19 December 2019.
Debate on the Bill
A debate for MSPs to discuss what the Bill aims to do and how it'll do it.
Stage 1 debate on the Bill transcript
The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)
Our next item of business is a stage 1 debate on motion S5M-20756, in the name of Monica Lennon, on the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill. I call Monica Lennon to speak to and move the motion in her name.14:47
Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)
This debate is possible only because we are standing tall on the shoulders of previous generations of feminists, trade unionists and equality campaigners. Because of them and today’s activists, we have the chance to pass pioneering legislation on free universal access to period products. Too often, this Parliament is defined by division, disagreements and discord, but the bill shows what Parliament can do when we put aside our legitimate political differences and work together.
Women and girls are too often left behind in the political process. This is a chance to put them first and to do something that is truly groundbreaking on gender equality. The bill will ensure free universal access to period products for anyone who needs them, and it will place a duty on schools, colleges and universities to make free period products available in toilets. Menstruation is normal; free universal access to tampons, pads and reusable options should be normal, too. Period dignity for all is not radical or extreme, but is simply the right thing to do.
Evidence shows that one in five women across the United Kingdom will face a struggle to access period products at some point in her life. The public consultation on my bill attracted 96 per cent support for the proposal.
I am proud that I played a part in the introduction of free period products in the Parliament building. MSPs, staff and visitors to Holyrood benefit from that and do not have to worry about being caught short.
The public want period equality, too. Today, campaigners held a rally outside Parliament, asking MSPs to vote for the bill. Grass-roots campaigning has sparked a culture-changing movement. We see that with the trailblazing “On the ball” group, which has persuaded football clubs to put free period products in their toilets. The group is part of a growing coalition of more than 50 organisations that endorse the bill and the principle of universal free access to period products. To all those campaigners I say, “Thank you.”
The bill will be subject to further scrutiny if it passes stage 1. I will be happy to work with colleagues from across the chamber on amendments to strengthen it.
Already, the bill has been shaped and influenced by women, girls, trans people and non-binary people from every corner of Scotland—not as passive observers, but as architects of the kind of Scotland in which we want to live. We should be proud that our citizens, especially our children and young people, are politically engaged and passionate about equality. I have worked with people from all parties and none, and I have learned from them all, especially during times of disagreement. I hope that those lessons have made me a better MSP.
I led Parliament’s first-ever debate on periods, in 2016. I want to repeat tributes that I gave then, to Gillian Martin and Women for Independence, which includes campaigners Julie Hepburn and Victoria Heaney. Success has many mothers, and I am delighted that Victoria addressed the rally today and is in the gallery.
Gillian Martin shone a light on domestic abuse being one of the hidden drivers of period poverty. Her influence on the Government spearheaded a pilot scheme in Aberdeen. Angela Constance deserves credit for leading that work, when she was Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities. I went to Aberdeen to meet Dave Simmers and the phenomenal team at Community Food Initiatives North East, which ran the pilot.
In Aberdeen and elsewhere I have heard personal stories that have motivated me. A change in circumstances can quickly push anyone into period poverty. People sharing that they have had to rely on food banks for period products so that their children could have food to eat, or that they missed college because they could not afford both a travel ticket and a tampon, are not easy conversations.
I record my thanks to everyone who shared their experiences with me and with the Local Government and Communities Committee. I am grateful to the committee, and to the clerks, especially for outreach work with communities and young people. I was disappointed that the committee was split in its decision, with a majority of members exercising caution over some aspects of the bill and not recommending support at stage 1.
I am eternally grateful to the non-Government bills unit staff, who have been on this rollercoaster journey with me.
I thank my wonderful team, especially Kirsty-Louise Hunt, who has worked on the bill from the beginning, and who was not able to fully celebrate her birthday yesterday because of preparations for today. I wish Kirsty-Louise a happy birthday.
Back in 2016, when I first raised access and affordability issues with ministers, my questions referred to “feminine hygiene products”. Journalist Daniel Sanderson, at The Herald, spotted the questions on the Parliament’s website, and called me to ask where I was going with them. Ministers at that time had advised that no work was planned on access to period products, or on stigma, but had confirmed their awareness that food banks in Scotland often provided sanitary products. I told Dan that I believed that action was required, and that I had reached out to organisations including the Educational Institute of Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Engender and the Trussell Trust, which all agreed with me.
It is good to look back on that time and to see how far we have progressed together. Since 2016, my language has evolved away from “hygiene” or “sanitary” products. Overall, discussions are much more inclusive and focused on dignity.
Cross-party working has been key: 51 MSPs from all parties signed the final proposal for the members’ bill. In particular, I want to thank Jackson Carlaw, the new leader of the Scottish Conservative Party. He has worked across and beyond party lines to fight for women who have been injured by mesh, and he approached my bill with the same desire to do what is right. I was grateful when he signed the members’ bill proposal back in 2018, and for his firm support in recent weeks when it looked as though the Scottish Government might not back the bill, at this time.
However, the Scottish Government has taken big strides since 2016. I congratulate ministers for working with a range of partners to roll out free period products in education settings and in many community venues. Aileen Campbell, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, should feel very proud of the work that she and her team are committed to, and are leading on, and I look forward to continuing to work with her on our shared objectives.
We have strong foundations to build on. The First Minister has put on record that access to period products should be a right: I agree with the First Minister. The bill provides a legal framework that will give ministers a considerable degree of flexibility to design the scheme through regulations, and to work in consultation with partners. Of course, no one will be required to take free period products; however, if a person needs them, they will be cost free and reasonably easy to access.
We must get on and do this, because we have constituents who are worried today about where their next pad or tampon is coming from. I firmly believe that Scotland can be proud of our actions so far, and of the fact that our intentions mark us out as a global leader on period equality. The world is willing us to go further, and to back the general principles of the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill tonight. I am proud to move the motion in my name.
That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill.14:55
James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)
I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Local Government and Communities Committee. Today’s debate reflects the findings of the committee’s scrutiny, which we began last September. We published our report on 5 February this year, and commended Monica Lennon’s work and her collaboration with the cabinet secretary. That joint work has helped to highlight the issues of access and affordability in relation to period products, and the stigma that goes with them.
Following a call for views, the committee took oral evidence during three evidence sessions. We heard from a number of organisations, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, and Monica Lennon. We also went to Perth and to a Scottish Youth Parliament workshop in Dunfermline. On behalf of the committee, I thank all those who engaged with us for their interesting, constructive and often passionate contributions
The term “period poverty” is not specifically referred to in the bill, but has been used by the press and others to describe the inability to afford period products. The committee discovered that the problem is as much one of access as it is one of cost. We found that it can impact on people who have health conditions or a disability, young people who might not have their own money, and women who are in coercive relationships. On our visit to Perth, we heard that women who have been diagnosed as suffering from conditions including endometriosis can spend £50 per month on products, but are not entitled to them on prescription.
We learned, too, that there is still a lot of stigma and embarrassment around periods, particularly for girls in school and for women who work in male-dominated workplaces. Witnesses told us how important education and campaigns that raise awareness are in combating that. Many witnesses also promoted a move away from the term “period poverty”, which they think creates more stigma; they prefer the term “period dignity”.
The bill has at its core the principle of universality and will create—if it becomes law—a universal right of access to period products. The committee heard the view that the majority of people who are able to afford products will continue to buy their own. A focus of our scrutiny was therefore on whether a universal right of access is preferable to a more targeted approach. The bill requires ministers to set up a “period products scheme”, but gives them a lot of flexibility in how they might choose to do that. We were keen to hear witnesses’ views on what such a scheme should look like.
Section 3 of the bill provides a mechanism for a voucher or registration scheme to be introduced, which could be similar to the c:card scheme that distributes free condoms. We explored whether there is support for that and found that although we saw some support in written evidence, none of the witnesses whom we heard from thought that it was a good idea. They felt that it might create more stigma and be an additional barrier to access. On balance, the committee did not think that a voucher scheme should be adopted.
Section 4 of the bill provides that the scheme must give individuals the option to have products delivered. We explored witnesses’ views on postal delivery—in particular, how it could be balanced with the lack of support for the voucher model that we heard. We heard arguments for and against the postal-delivery option. Arguments for it included that it would benefit hard-to-reach communities, including people in rural areas and disabled individuals. However, we were more persuaded by the arguments against it, which cited additional bureaucracy and costs, and noted that postal deliveries would require information sharing of some kind. We agreed that alternative solutions, such as working in partnership with local services, would be preferable.
We asked witnesses how effective they were finding the non-statutory measures that have been undertaken by the Scottish Government, which take a targeted approach to providing free period products in educational establishments, sports facilities and other local authority buildings. All the witnesses whom we heard from were extremely positive about those measures, and it is clear that they are having an impact in tackling the problems of access, affordability and stigma. We were impressed by the work that is being done by local authorities, third sector and grass-roots organisations, which continue to promote and implement the measures.
Many witnesses welcomed the range of products that some organisations have made available. Although that is welcome, we heard from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that each local authority takes its own approach, which depends on local needs. As a result, witnesses told us that there can be a lack of consistency in how products are distributed and promoted in schools, which has had an impact on uptake in some areas. We understand that measures are in their early stages and that full evaluation is still to be done, but our scrutiny highlighted concerns in some areas about the poor quality of products, about lack of availability of products during holidays and about some people still missing out. We heard how important it is that the scheme is promoted so that individuals can find products easily.
Many witnesses suggested that providing reusable products could provide more long-term, cost-effective and sustainable options, while acknowledging the greater up-front costs. The financial memorandum that accompanies the bill acknowledges the financial implications in setting up and administering a universal scheme; the committee explored those costs in detail. The financial memorandum estimates that the annual costs for a universal scheme would not be more than the £9.7 million to which the Scottish Government has already committed, but we heard from the cabinet secretary that a more realistic estimate is £24.1 million. That figure was reached using a higher unit cost, based on data from local authorities that are implementing the current scheme. The majority of the committee felt that not enough clarity was available on why there is such a difference between the figures.
The committee acknowledges that affording and accessing products is still an issue for some people, so we will follow with interest how the Scottish Government will address the issues that we have raised in our report. The committee is unanimous in its support for the intentions of the bill. A majority, however, had concerns about the disparity between the costs that were presented in the member’s financial memorandum and the costs for a universal scheme being rolled out that were estimated by the Scottish Government. The majority of the committee considered that more work to clarify the final costs is needed.
The majority of the committee was also concerned that the flexibility that Ms Lennon allowed in the bill for ministers to devise a scheme meant that there was a great deal of uncertainty about how Ms Lennon sees the bill being put into practice. It was clear that the majority of the committee thinks that considerably more work will be required before the bill is fit for purpose. It is also clear, given public pronouncements from parties across the chamber, that the bill will pass stage 1 today. However, having, as convener, sat through the evidence and heard Ms Lennon’s questioning of witnesses and her answers to our questions at committee, and because of the lack of detail on finance and practical suggestions on how the admirable purpose of the bill can be achieved, I have no doubt that the bill will need to be the subject of a considerable number of amendments to make it anything like workable.
The truth is that I was surprised to see a member’s bill with such lack of detail and clarity coming before my committee. I have certainly never seen one like it before. After the bill has passed stage 1 this evening—as it will—I will look forward to the sizeable challenge at stage 2 of trying to make it workable legislation.
Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)
Will the member give way?
I am just about to close. I will take an intervention if I have the time.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)
I can give you the time.
How did James Dornan feel when Murdo Fraser’s member’s bill was included in its entirety, without having been through any consultation, in the legislation that included provisions on parking?
I am speaking as convener of the Local Government and Communities Committee. Given that we are talking about the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, I should concentrate on it. That was a red herring.
I am proud of the report that the Local Government and Communities Committee has produced. It is honest, well produced and absent of all political bias. It is for that reason that tonight, I will abstain on the motion on the bill.15:03
The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government (Aileen Campbell)
I am immensely proud that Scotland is a world leader on providing access to period products. Thanks to this Government’s actions, without waiting for legislation, we have invested about £15 million to make free period products available in our schools, colleges and universities; in community settings, such as libraries, community hubs and grass roots sports clubs; and in services that are most likely to be accessed by people on low incomes. We are reaching more than 530,000 women and girls through this groundbreaking work right across the country, so that roughly a third of those in Scotland who menstruate now have access to those products for free, thanks to our actions.
Free products are also increasingly being made available by public bodies—including this Parliament, which was one of the first to take action—and also by the private sector, with football clubs, pubs and construction companies making products available for staff and visitors. That is set to increase, and the momentum should be welcomed as an outcome that we can all be very proud of. We are going to acknowledge that outcome through the introduction of period-friendly certification.
We are also working in partnership with FareShare to ensure even wider availability, specifically for those on low incomes. Our £1 million investment in the past two years has allowed FareShare to buy products to distribute through over 800 partners and it is also supporting community development workers in FareShare’s four hubs to work with grass-roots organisations to break down barriers and address stigma and embarrassment.
Access to free period products through FareShare and its partners is through a variety of routes, including food banks, support groups, advice centres, family centres, hospices and care homes. I heard how valuable the service was when I visited one of FareShare’s hubs last year. One beneficiary said that
“getting free products has been a godsend and a weight off financially when we are already struggling on benefits”.
That comment highlights that many of the people we are supporting are in need because of austerity and the benefit cuts introduced by the Westminster Tory Government and that, once again, the Scottish Government is having to step in to support those families as poverty makes it difficult for them to meet their basic needs. This is one of many measures that we are taking to mitigate those cuts, including the investment of £110 million in the next financial year to protect people from those cuts.
We have also supported local authorities with the provision of products and they have been able to decide where to place products based on local knowledge and local need. One local authority identified locations in which to provide access to free products, including libraries, community centres, leisure centres and churches. Each partner received a box containing products, a poster with financial support information, and a digital code for restocking. In another authority, products have been placed in a range of places where there is high footfall and in locations that are likely to be accessed by those who may need the products most, including the jobcentre and places that host community fridges.
One of the concerns that I raised with the committee is about the need to ensure that the flexibility that we have given to local authorities is maintained so that the delivery of local provision is right for each community. That is one of three major concerns with the current legislation that I have continued to highlight. The other concerns are around the cost and the actual design of a scheme to deliver on the proposed right to free products.
Many who support the principle of legislation are strongly opposed to the preliminary procedure for delivery that is proposed in the bill. Despite that, no alternative suggestion for a different delivery route for the national scheme that is mandated in the bill has been proposed. Extensive work carried out by Scottish Government officials over the past two years suggests that that is because it is almost impossible to devise one that is not overly bureaucratic or costly.
My third main area of concern is that the proposed costs have been significantly underestimated. As I outlined to the committee, the Scottish Government’s best estimate of the cost of delivering a universal scheme, as proposed in the bill, is an annual cost of £24 million—over two and a half times the cost estimated in the bill’s financial memorandum. As members know, if the Parliament agrees to the bill at stage 1 today, the Scottish ministers will be expected to introduce a financial resolution to allow the bill to move to stage 2. However, as Monica Lennon said when giving evidence to the committee, it is impossible to say definitely what uptake would be. We would have to introduce a financial resolution before we knew what the delivery of universal free access would look like and, by extension, how much it would really cost. I therefore welcome the committee’s conclusion that more work to clarify the potential cost is needed and I will seek agreement across political parties on the detail to allow us to better estimate costs before lodging a motion for a financial resolution.
I thank the cabinet secretary for the tone of her speech so far. It is important that we continue to work together. North Ayrshire Council launched free provision in schools a year before the Government scheme rolled out nationally and, in oral evidence to the committee, the council official talked about the savings that had been made because they had become more efficient and there was less bureaucracy. That gave me hope that we can continue to learn and improve. Does the cabinet secretary acknowledge that?
The Deputy Presiding Officer
There is extra time available if you need it, cabinet secretary.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.
I know about the fantastic work that is being done in North Ayrshire. I visited Ardrossan academy to see some of the good work that is being done there. It is being led by the headteacher who has created a culture that allows those who need support to get it and to be treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. That work is changing the culture, not just for the generation of pupils who are going through that school, but for generations to come, and is all the better for it.
In my evidence to the committee, I was clear that we believe that the financial memorandum underestimates the costs. What we stand to lose through the lack of flexibility could prove to be costly. We will have to work together to try to find a way through that, because there is no getting away from it that the costs that the Government is incurring now are more than the costs that are set out in the financial memorandum. That is just a fact. We will need to work through that and, if we want good legislation, a lot of hard work and endeavour will be required to make sure that the bill is fit for purpose.
It is clear that as a Parliament, across the political parties, we are collectively committed to ensuring that everyone who needs to access period products can do so. We should always remind ourselves of that. We have made huge progress in the past few years, and while we know that delivery of our policies is still in the relatively early stages, we are clearly seeing a change in culture. That has been recognised by the committee. We must ensure that the good practice that is already in place is not lost through the introduction of legislation, and that any scheme is workable and deliverable, does not have unintended consequences and offers value to the public purse.
I sincerely thank Monica Lennon and the wider stakeholders who have been so visible in this campaign for the work that has culminated in the introduction of the bill. I also thank the Local Government and Communities Committee for its careful consideration of the bill. The committee and the Scottish Government have made their concerns clear and I have made it clear that legislation could slow our progress and could prove to be costly. In the spirit of this debate and in pursuit of good legislation, Parliament will now need to pull out all the stops and work hard on the bill, collectively and collaboratively, so that it achieves everything that we across the chamber want it to, and to enable our country to emerge through this and continue to set an example that the world wants to follow.
I am proud of our work so far, although I want to make sure that we can protect it by working together across the chamber, so that we have a bill that all of the Parliament can be proud of and that we secure a legacy for generations to come.15:12
Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)
I associate myself with the words of Aileen Campbell. I agree with every word—well, most of what she said; not quite everything.
I congratulate Monica Lennon on her work on the bill, on her tireless tweeting and on managing to persuade all parties to go against the committee’s recommendation that the bill should go no further. I have known Monica for what feels like a long time—probably for both of us. When we were both councillors in South Lanarkshire, she was as quiet as a mouse, but not now
I have treated the bill as I treat any bill: with an open mind and a great deal of diligence about what is in front of us. What looked to be fairly straightforward has proved to be anything but. I have swayed between thinking that the bill had some legs, to thinking that it should go no further and was not required. I remain to be convinced about it, but my party leader, Jackson Carlaw, who was mentioned previously, was ambushed on Facebook, so here we are. I have been informed of the error of my ways. If only I had briefed him in advance.
It would be easy to say that because of what the Parliament is about to do, we might as well rip up the committee’s report; that we might as well not have bothered to take any evidence or to do any work. However, the Parliament is entitled to disagree with a committee’s conclusions and there has been great value to our work on this subject. I have certainly found the whole thing educational.
I represented the Local Government and Communities Committee at a meeting with the Scottish Youth Parliament in Dunfermline. I thank all those who attended that meeting for their keen interest in the bill. Three of us also met groups in Perth. That led to one of our recommendations, which I will come to.
The bill would become
“An Act of the Scottish Parliament to secure the provision throughout Scotland of free period products.”
Section 1 of the bill says:
“Everyone in Scotland who needs to use period products has the right under this Part to obtain them free of charge.”
Loads of questions arise from those opening lines alone. How? At what cost? Why everyone? Where? What products? What quality? After that, the bill really starts to unravel. My big concern was picked up in the committee’s report. It described the bill as
“legislation that 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, should it choose not to.”
In other words, bodies such as councils would be saddled with spending that might or might not be covered by the Government. That could be bordering on irresponsible when councils are making cuts in core services.
The bill requires the Government to draw up a scheme to implement that universal provision, but it would apply only to the public sector. To be fair to the Government, it has pretty much done that already without the need for legislation, and it is surely only fair to see how that works. Monica Lennon was not happy with that, though.
The committee’s other concern was that we have no idea at all about what any of it would cost. There is a huge disparity between what Monica Lennon said and the ludicrous figures that have been quoted by the Government.
Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
I know that, across the country, people have been writing to members of the Scottish Parliament—they have certainly contacted me—to say that they want what has been proposed to happen and that the situation is absolutely unacceptable. Somebody recently said to me that, if it was men who needed those sanitary products, they would have been free years ago. There is real support for the bill in the country. Do all MSPs not have a responsibility to try to work our way forward not just to approve the bill at stage 1 but to ensure that it becomes legislation and that Scotland leads the way across the world? [Applause.]
The Deputy Presiding Officer
Those in the public gallery should not show appreciation or otherwise in any of the proceedings of the Parliament, please.
Nobody in the Parliament disagrees with what Monica Lennon is trying to achieve. The question is whether the bill is the right approach. The committee asked legitimate questions; that is the committee’s job, and that will be our job at stage 2. That is what we are here to do.
I did my own, unscientific, research into costs. I asked family members about their use of period products and checked the costs in supermarkets. It was clear to me that tampons and pads are not expensive. They are extremely affordable to most women, and somebody could quite easily get their monthly supply for under £5—although I fully accept that everyone is different and that people have varying needs. Monica Lennon accepted that most women can afford the products that they need. If that is the case, we would be entitled to ask why we need a universal scheme.
Will the member give way?
No. I am coming to an important bit of my speech.
When the three of us committee members visited Perth, I had my eyes opened. I asked what people were paying every month and a very impressive young lady who suffers from endometriosis told me that she pays £50 a month. It struck me that, if somebody suffers from a medical condition that makes them bleed a lot, there is an argument that they should be able to get the products that they need on prescription. The committee accepted that, and I am delighted that the Government is looking at how that might be implemented. That would supply period products to those in most need.
Through the committee, I also asked whether there was legislation on providing toilet paper. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 say that toilet paper should be provided in workplace toilets and that, in women’s toilets, there should also be suitable means for the disposal of sanitary dressings. It seems to me that a simple tweak to that regulation could add in the requirement also to supply sanitary products in women’s toilets. That would be in all workplace toilets. We have asked colleagues in Westminster to look at that and I encourage the Scottish ministers to take that up with Westminster as well, or investigate whether that change can be made from here.
Monica Lennon rose—
I will take an intervention if I can get the time back.
The Deputy Presiding Officer
I can give you the time back.
I thank Graham Simpson for his contributions and for his work on the committee. I wonder whether he agrees that we have to be careful that, in asking questions and setting criteria, we do not ask women to prove that they bleed enough or that they bleed in the right way in order to receive an entitlement to any product. Although I am glad that there is recognition of a range of medical conditions that can make periods more difficult, we need to make sure that we are not asking women, or anyone, those very personal questions about how much they bleed, how often and how long for. Women have told us that they are embarrassed by those questions, and that is why a universal approach is the most dignified way forward.
One thing that should come out of this debate is that people should not be embarrassed about talking about those issues. If women have a particular medical condition, which endometriosis is, surely that should be tackled medically. If they need products, those should be available on prescription. It is absurd that somebody should have to fork out £50 a month and not have that covered by prescription.
Monica Lennon rose—
No. I am almost finished.
As we head to stage 2, I say to Monica Lennon that the committee has a huge job to do. We must work with her. If we are going to make laws, they must be workable and necessary. I am afraid that at this stage the bill is neither. It will be for the committee to knock it into shape—if that is possible.15:21
Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)
Scotland is on course to introduce the world’s most comprehensive legislation on free period products. That is thanks to Monica Lennon and her supporters, members of this Parliament, the equality movement and all those who have stuck with the issue from the beginning.
I say to James Dornan that most of the bills that I have scrutinised have had loads of amendments, and I do not really see why this one would be any different.
Will the member take an intervention?
The Tories are giving very mixed signals as to whether they support the general principles of the bill, and I was astonished at some of the arguments that Graham Simpson used—I have never known Jackson Carlaw to be ambushed by anyone or anything.
I want to talk about breaking the taboo of periods, not just dealing with their cost to women and girls. Mr Simpson says that women should not feel embarrassed, but women on all sides of the chamber will tell him that not being able to talk about their health has been an issue for generations of women. I will say something about that.
We might disagree, and I accept that the committee must scrutinise the bill closely, but I hope that the tone of the Tories’ contribution to the debate will change. If it did not, that would be a tragedy. I whole-heartedly welcome the change of heart that the Government has made in supporting the bill—Aileen Campbell, who gave the reasons for that today, should be congratulated—albeit that we will discuss the bill’s serious and legitimate implications as we go forward.
It is a shock to every young girl when she finds out that her body is going to change as she enters puberty and adulthood—even more so when she finds out that her period is going to arrive every month. That is life altering for most women. A new form of pain and discomfort arrives in the form of the blood and moods, and, although everyone is different, there are many associated health issues. Whether women have endometriosis, get pregnant or are not pregnant, there are implications for women’s health.
In many countries, young women are not told about their periods and are frightened when they have one for the first time. Sheh was 15 when she bled for the first time. She thought that she was sick and confided in her aunt, who told Sheh’s mother. Her mother said, “You are a woman now.” She lives in a small village near Delhi, in India, and she now works in a sanitary pad factory in that small village. A documentary has been made about the campaign in which students crowdfunded for a pad-making machine.
The taboo around periods still exists around the world. In the rest of India, periods are still a taboo topic and, in some countries, menstruating women are still considered to be impure and are barred from entering religious places. They are often also excluded from social events. In Nepal, nearly eight out of 10 girls in the Mid-Western region still sleep in dangerous outdoor menstruation huts during their periods, and, when women are on their periods, it is forbidden for them to take part in a range of everyday activities. We are talking about a global issue of equality. I should say that, after a string of high-profile deaths, the practice in Nepal was criminalised in 2018.
The need for the bill in Scotland is apparent. All the written submissions to the committee recognised that period poverty is an issue in Scotland. It is an issue of poverty.
Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
I am not on the committee, but I have read the bill and I absolutely agree with what the member says about period poverty. However, does the member agree that a number of amendments need to be made to the bill? For example, I am concerned about the proposal for a voucher system and the fact that a person must provide sufficient proof of their identity, which is addressed in section 3. I see a lot of homeless people in the streets, and I would hope that they would be able to access the free products, too. Those issues are a bit of a worry for me. Can the member clarify the position on those issues? Might Monica Lennon lodge amendments on them?
That was quite a long intervention.
I agree with the member that there are issues with the registration schemes. However, this is a stage 1 debate in which we are discussing the general principles of the bill. As is the case with every bill, every member is entitled to lodge amendments, and I would like there to be a fuller discussion of the point that the member raises.
For me, the case for universal provision is worthy of consideration. With tight local government budgets, we must be convinced of any need for a universal benefit, but I was particularly swayed by the witnesses who rejected the suggestion of any kind of registration scheme. They argued convincingly that any such scheme risked stigmatising those who are least able to afford period products. Unite the union pointed out that those who need free products are the ones who are almost guaranteed not to ask for them. They are embarrassed and depressed by their situation, and they are the ones who are least likely to register. That speaks to Sandra White’s point.
What does the bill do? First, it places a duty on Scottish ministers to ensure that period products are available free of charge on a universal basis; secondly, it requires education providers to make period products available free of charge in toilets on site; thirdly, it enables the Scottish ministers to place a duty on other specified public bodies to provide free period products.
If ever there was a time to recognise that women and girls have not been encouraged to openly discuss the fact that they menstruate, it is now. It is time for the remaining taboo to end. Let Scotland be the world leader in breaking those taboos by talking about women’s health issues, whether they be periods, the menopause or anything else. Let this Parliament at least agree today the general principles of the bill, which concern the universal free provision of period products, and then let us get down to the scrutiny of the bill, as we would with any bill at stage 2.15:28
Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)
I commend Monica Lennon for bringing forward the bill. She has been campaigning on this topic since her arrival in Parliament and has worked hard to get it to this stage. I also thank members of the Local Government and Communities Committee and the clerks for their scrutiny.
As a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee, I was struck by the widespread support for the principles of the bill on the part of witnesses. I also commend the Government, which has been undertaking work over the past few years. That work has been incredibly valuable, and I commend the cabinet secretary for her commitment on this topic.
I was part of the minority of the committee that did not recommend rejection of the general principles of the bill. The central argument of the majority was that legislation is not required because the executive branch of Government is delivering and because it is too early. On the face of it, that is a reasonable argument, but the bill is fundamentally about the creation of a statutory right. When I asked the cabinet secretary whether she agreed that access to period products should be a right, she was unwilling to provide a straight answer, but she said that a lack of access can inhibit the realisation of other rights such as the rights to education and work.
The Scottish National Party’s position is clear. In an SNP council meeting a year or two ago, the following resolution was passed:
“SNP council ... believes every woman should have access to sanitary products, as of right.”
Reasonable people can disagree on whether that should be a right. However, it is not an argument against creating a right to say that the executive branch of Government is delivering, because the Government does not have the authority or the power to create rights—only Parliaments and laws can do that.
Members of the Scottish Parliament are here to represent constituents, not the Government, and large swathes of people are saying yes to a rights-based approach. The only way that that can be delivered is via legislation that we pass on behalf of the constituents who elect us.
Greens believe that access to period products should be a right enshrined in law. Do we believe that the bill as drafted is correct in every respect? No, we do not, although we disagree with the Government’s argument that the bill lacks flexibility. Some aspects of what is proposed lack flexibility, but they can be dealt with, and fundamentally the bill gives the Scottish ministers substantial freedom to devise a scheme that is as flexible as they wish it to be. Nevertheless, it would be prudent to await full evaluation before implementing a scheme. The 12-month operational target in section 2(4) is probably too ambitious.
Will the member give way?
I am just about to close.
We need a statutory scheme that underpins the existing work, that provides a guarantee to the public that access to period products is, indeed, a right and that puts it beyond doubt that that is the will of the Parliament.
Today’s vote is on the general principles of the bill, and Greens support the general principles of the bill. I have no doubt that difficult conversations lie ahead for Ms Lennon. We wish her well and remain committed to playing our part in seeing the bill get on to the statute book in a form on which we can all agree.15:31
Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
I do not sit on the lead committee considering the bill and was not involved in the evidence taking at stage 1, so my involvement up to now has been peripheral. However, I have watched in awe as Monica Lennon has dragged the bill by its bootstraps through the Parliament, and I commend her for that. She has been an inspiration to watch.
It says a lot that Monica Lennon’s debate on period products in 2016 was the first such debate in 17 years of the Scottish Parliament’s history. That tells us something about the stigma that surrounds the issue. Our laws are almost totally silent on this most natural aspect of everyday life for every woman whom we represent. Currently the only explicit mandated provision of sanitary products in Scotland, in law, is for female prisoners. The only other reference to periods in statute relates to the provision of disposal units for sanitary waste in bathrooms. The provision of sanitary products themselves is otherwise entirely absent from the law.
Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
The member is right to say that nothing is enshrined in the law. However, does he recognise that Scotland is leading the world in the provision of period products for those who need them?
Nothing in my speech is incompatible with that proposition; I recognise it and I salute the Government for it.
As Monica Lennon said, the bill is not about hygiene; it is about human dignity. I am proud to have supported it from the outset, when I was a signatory to the bill proposal. The bill asserts that access to sanitary products is a basic human right—a necessity and not a luxury. It also carries a secondary policy aim that is most welcome, which is to end the silence and stigma that surround menstruation, removing gender barriers and creating a more equal society.
It is estimated that a woman in Scotland will, over her lifetime, spend approximately £5,000 on tampons, pads and other sanitary products. On any given day in Scotland, there are 1.3 million women in the age group in which menstruation is likely. This is not a peripheral issue and the statistics speak to the universality of what is proposed, which I will speak about.
Poverty in Scotland is growing—there was an increase of 2 per cent in 2017 alone. So, too, is period poverty. The manifestation of that reality is striking. It is estimated that nearly 13,000 girls missed a day of school in Scotland last year because they were not able to access or afford menstrual products. Research by Plan International shows that 17 per cent of girls have struggled to afford period products and 12 per cent have been forced to improvise period products, due to affordability issues. The same research shows that 49 per cent of girls have missed school because of their period and 64 per cent have missed a physical education or sports lesson. Again, that speaks to the stigma around the issue.
Three quarters of people who were surveyed by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations feel that it is necessary to hide sanitary products at work. The hope is that this legislation will help, as Engender put it, to normalise periods and the discussion around periods, and work to end workplace-based period stigma.
It should be normalised, because when we boil it down, sanitary products are a staple of female human existence. It is no coincidence that across Scotland, tampons and sanitary pads are seen as a necessary staple in food banks. Just yesterday I visited North Edinburgh Arts in the Muirhouse area of my constituency, which is one of the most deprived communities in Scotland. It is not a food bank, but it has a sharing shelf with DVDs, foodstuffs and a dedicated section for sanitary products. Such organisations realise that sanitary products are about more than hygiene—they are about dignity, social mobility, body confidence and mental health.
I welcome the Government’s movement on the bill. It is now finally in step with the 96 per cent of people who, in responses to the consultation on the bill, expressed support for the proposal as a whole. Those people recognise that period poverty disrupts the everyday lives of women and children. In some instances, it prevents them from attending work or school, which affects their individual rights, including their right to education.
Those who lack frequent access to sanitary products through period poverty are more likely to use a product for longer than the recommended usage time. That puts them at a higher risk of experiencing toxic shock syndrome. Although that is a rare condition, it can be life threatening. Between 2007 and 2016, 67 women in Scotland were admitted to hospital with toxic shock. For me, that is the most harrowing reality related to this issue.
Notwithstanding such extreme examples, the bill will have a cost benefit for the national health service because it will reduce hospital admissions, other medical appointments and prescriptions. The arguments that we have heard in the debate about endometriosis are, I believe, unanswerable. If a person has a condition that makes them bleed uncontrollably, the NHS should step in.
On that point, one of our areas of work has shown that endometriosis is very difficult to get a diagnosis for; in fact, on average, a diagnosis takes about seven and a half years. Does Alex Cole-Hamilton agree that, given that people can wait a long time to be believed or to get a name for their condition, a universal system in which women could opt in would be preferable to limiting benefits to people who have been diagnosed with that condition?
I absolutely agree, and that point brings me nicely on to the universality of the bill. If we do not make provision universal, and if we rely on people getting a diagnosis for endometriosis or fitting a set of social criteria, we will simply replace one stigma with another. We need to recognise this as a basic human right; it is about basic access to dignity. As such, universality is an essential part of the bill.
I can see that my time is up, but I will say this: not being able to keep oneself clean and to keep one’s clothes unsoiled adds a level of degradation to poverty that this Parliament has the power to remove. Period poverty can compound social isolation, economic inactivity and poor mental health. However, the bill is about so much more than removing a highly embarrassing and stigmatising barrier to work, employment or socialisation. It is about normalising discussions around menstruation in a public policy context. The bill, and the work that underpins it, are about fundamental human dignity, and we applaud Monica Lennon for it.
The Deputy Presiding Officer
We move to the open debate. I remind all members and their respective groups that, if a member is taking part in a debate, they should be here for all the opening and all the closing speeches.15:38
Angela Constance (Almond Valley) (SNP)
Given that the move to provide access to free period products is grounded in tackling poverty and gender inequality, I will be very proud to support the general principles of the bill tonight. I look forward to hearing more from both the cabinet secretary and Ms Lennon about how we can all work together to iron out the issue of deliverability.
These days it is fashionable to label the consequences of poverty. We have food poverty, fuel poverty, funeral poverty and, at the heart of today’s debate, period poverty. However, at the end of the day, the grinding struggles and indignity of living with low or no income, of navigating one’s way through a punitive benefits system or of paying over the odds for rent and heat is just plain, old-fashioned poverty.
If we are to end poverty—irrespective of how it might be labelled—folk need to have enough money to live on, and they also need not to be ripped off over their essential living costs.
I want to put the period poverty debate in the broader context of ending poverty in this country, given that everyone in the Parliament unanimously supported legislative targets to do so. It is not easy for any Government to end poverty—indeed, as yet, no United Kingdom Government has met that challenge. With devolution, there can be different choices, albeit that, sometimes, those are limited and come with strings attached.
Consequently, we need to be forensically clear about which actions and investments will lift people out of poverty by dealing with its causes and, in contrast, which ones will address only its consequences. To meet our targets to end child poverty, the overall thrust of our endeavours and investments must be to lift families and young people out of poverty. The overall thrust of the bill, as it is currently drafted, is to address the consequences and not the causes of poverty, because it will not reduce the growing numbers of people who live in it. Nonetheless, supporting the bill is the right thing to do, because, quite simply, it aims to makes life more bearable, protect dignity and reduce inequality.
However, if we are to progress with the bill—which I hope we will do—we will need to do so with our eyes wide open and acknowledge the challenges that, together, we will need to face. For example, the bill’s financial memorandum attributes a cost of nearly £10 million per annum to the scheme, but the Scottish Government estimates it to be £24 million. The reality is that we do not really know, because there are still so many questions to answer about the final scheme.
However, more fundamental questions concern where the money should come from and who should pay. What I am about to say might alienate half of the Government, but I will say it nevertheless. I do not want to see our Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government being forced to make a choice between addressing period poverty or feeding hungry weans, or our Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People having to take money from hard-pressed families or disabled people, or our Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning having less to invest in warm, affordable homes. Therefore we all need to help ministers to protect the budget lines that tackle poverty, which might mean our accepting reductions elsewhere.
It is to the Government’s credit that it did not sit back and wait for legislation on this subject to be introduced; instead, since 2017 it has invested £15 million in a wide range of world-leading activity that is now reaching half a million people.
I concede that I have an attachment to the issue from my time in the Government, when I took the ball from public health and kicked it on to the park as a gender equality and poverty issue. I have to say that, in large part, I did so because of lobbying by Gillian Martin and Monica Lennon. From my experience at that time, I also know that issues of deliverability are genuine. Measures that we might imagine to be comparatively simple—such as voucher schemes—are hideously complex and costly to implement.
If we focus collectively on principles and pragmatism, we can get the bill into shape for stages 2 and 3. In saying that, I mean absolutely no disrespect to Monica Lennon. It is not always easy to put rights into practice and deliver them in the real world. However, we have learned much from the successful Aberdeen pilot and the initial scheme’s implementation in schools, colleges, universities and community settings. Giving local authorities, voluntary organisations and other partners the flexibility to deliver the best local solutions will be key to meeting our national priorities.
The best argument for the bill is that it could lock in and build on the progress made thus far. Although it will be a magnificent moment—or, as Ms Lennon put it, a “pioneering” one—when Scotland becomes the first country in the world to pass such legislation, I want us to keep close to our hearts the women who most need such support, including those with medical conditions such as endometriosis.
There is a strong argument for our national health service, as well as local government, being part of any statutory framework—if it is good for the goose, it is good for the gander.
We need to keep close to our hearts the 320,000 women of menstruating age who live in poverty after they have paid housing costs, because we are reaching only 11 per cent of such women now. The barometer of our success should, at its core, be how we support those women with the consequences of poverty.15:45
Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
I am delighted to take part in today’s stage 1 debate, and I am pleased to congratulate Monica Lennon on her endeavours with the bill.
It is absolutely right that no one should find it difficult to access sanitary products due to poverty. The real questions are whether the bill is the right way to address inequality and whether a universal scheme that is underpinned by legislation is the right approach.
Over recent months, the Local Government and Communities Committee, on which I sit, has taken evidence from many individuals, and I commend them for that evidence. I am grateful for the support that we received during our deliberations.
We will support the general principles of the bill at stage 1, but we have some real concerns about the practicalities of its provisions and the specific type of scheme that is proposed. We will seek to address those concerns—I have no doubt that they will be addressed—through discussion and debate at stages 2 and 3. Although my party and the Scottish Government have now decided to support the general principles of the bill at stage 1, despite having some reservations and there being previous opposition, there remain some concerns about the deliverability of the scheme. The period products scheme that is set out in the bill is ill defined.
The bill would give the Scottish ministers significant control over which scheme was implemented and over its delivery. Although ministers sometimes need to be afforded an element of flexibility for practical reasons, given that the scheme is integral to the aims of the bill, it is important that we are clear about how any scheme would work in practice. As it stands, the bill leaves too much to be dealt with later, but I am sure that those issues will be dealt with during stages 2 and 3.
Many women can afford to purchase their sanitary products. Although the majority will continue to do so after the introduction of the scheme, there could be a cost associated with providing products to those who can afford them. We do not want that to happen, because the bill is meant to help and assist. As one contributor to the committee’s report said:
“those who most need the free products are the ones who are almost guaranteed not to ask for them.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 18 December 2019; c 18.]
It is therefore clear that there are some problems with a universal scheme that require to be ironed out. We need to go beyond simply providing free products for everyone. We also need to ensure that the support that is provided addresses the associated stigma and tackles the root causes of poverty relating to sanitary products.
There is a lack of understanding about which public bodies will be required to supply period products, and it would be unwise to pass a bill that has such a wide scope. Will it be only schools that are required to provide period products for free, or will the requirement apply to all council-owned buildings, to leisure and arts facilities that are run at arm’s length from councils, to general practices or to hospitals? We need clarity on those issues.
We have no guarantee that there will be a funding uplift from the Scottish Government. In that vein, there seems to be genuine confusion about the cost of implementing the scheme. The financial memorandum that accompanies the bill mentions a unit price of 9p, despite the fact that that would allow only certain products to be provided. Individuals have said that they want a range of products to be provided, and the financial memorandum, which suggests a cost of £9.7 million, does not cover that. As we have heard from the cabinet secretary and others, £24 million might be required.
The 9p unit cost of pads and tampons was drawn from the earlier Aberdeen pilot scheme, which has been referenced. The member will recall that Hey Girls, which is a key partner, also gave a similar figure at committee.
I accept that people have genuine questions, and I hope that, when we get to stage 2, we can have more discussions on those points.
I think that the whole process needs to be clear, because of the difference in cost per unit, which Monica Lennon is right to identify. That issue could be looked at and the matter ironed out as we progress.
Without that clarity, there is a real concern about what the scheme would cost and who would end up paying for it—or not, as the case may be. COSLA came before the Local Government and Communities Committee and made that point in its submission on the bill. It is very mindful about where the financial burdens would lie—they would fall on public bodies and local authorities—and wants to ensure that the proposals are fully funded directly by the Scottish Government. If that does not happen, councils will simply have to make cuts in other service delivery areas to compensate. We do not want that to be the case.
It is important to note that the Scottish Government has made significant progress on the issue. We need to recognise that and commend it.
Although some councils have introduced their own free sanitary product schemes, all will soon be required to make sanitary products available in schools. Additional funding has already been made available to support some free sanitary products at colleges and universities.
As Graham Simpson said, the Scottish Government, with clinicians, is looking at how people with conditions such as endometriosis could use prescriptions to access period products. That is very much the right way to go.
Monica Lennon should be congratulated on her work and in particular on raising awareness about the negative effects that inadequate access to sanitary products can have on individuals’ mental and physical health, as has been indicated to us by women and girls.
Period poverty is inexcusable. The bill and the issue more generally require careful consideration, which is why we support the general principles of the bill at stage 1.15:52
Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)
I am delighted to speak in the debate and to continue to offer my support to Monica Lennon’s bill. I have supported it from day 1, as have a number of colleagues across the chamber.
This is a very important bill. It is about health and wellbeing, women and girls, men and boys, equality, education, dignity, decency, and the type of society that I want to live in and that I want us all to live in.
Since coming into the Parliament, I have been astonished by how we deal with issues to do with our personal health, reproductive health and women’s health. When I got involved with the mesh campaigners, we could get not get anyone, including journalists, to listen to what the women were saying. Back in the early days of the campaign, I remember calling a press conference that two journalists turned up to. When I asked a senior journalist why they did not come, they said, “Well, we just don’t want to talk about women’s bits.” Actually, they did not use those words—I am too polite to say how they described it. That was in 2012.
One thing that the bill has done is break down the barrier of our inability to discuss such serious issues about our health and wellbeing in the media or in public without embarrassment, reticence and discomfort. It has allowed people to talk about the issues without embarrassment or stigma, which is a very good thing.
It was absolutely fantastic to see male industrial workers from Unite the union—members of my own union; I see some of them in the gallery—out there campaigning on period poverty. Long may that continue. They have been joined by a wide range of organisations, including football clubs and supporters groups, Engender, the Scottish Youth Parliament, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and NUS Scotland, building a very broad, very effective coalition in support of the bill.
Progressing a member’s bill is a big task. A number of us have done it, so we know how hugely time consuming it is. I recall that, way back, my then researcher Tommy Kane and I had a conversation with Monica Lennon, in which we encouraged her to take the matter forward as a member’s bill. As we move forward today, I am pleased that we had that conversation. Her parliamentary team—Kirsty-Louise Hunt, Alyson Laird, Lynsey Hamilton and Correne Fulton—must be given great credit. We all know that parliamentary teams do tremendous work behind the scenes, but getting a member’s bill to this stage is a very big task, and they have played a blinder.
I am pleased that political realities kicked in last week and that the Tories and the Scottish National Party have come on board. When I heard arguments about cross-border tampon raids, I knew that the case against the bill had evaporated—I am pleased that it has.
Will the member give way?
I want to put to bed the spin about the so-called “tampon raids”. Will the member acknowledge that Monica Lennon’s bill, which we had a duty to respond to, raised the issue of preventing abuse? Section 4(7) states that further provision made by the Scottish Government
“may include measures to ensure that a person may not obtain quantities of period products that are greater than reasonably commensurate with the person’s use of them.”
We responded to section 4(7) and said that such measures would be disproportionate to the cost of the products.
I will take that point for the record. When that came out in the past week, we knew that opposition to the bill had evaporated.
I believe that universal provision, funded by progressive taxation, is the best way to provide public services. No one who saw “I, Daniel Blake” could fail to be moved by Katie’s plight, when she was forced to steal sanitary towels from her local shop because of her poverty. If we claim to be a civilised society, we should not have people resorting to such levels of indignity. Maybe when we pass the bill, we can move on to eradicating food and fuel poverty and, ultimately, homelessness. We would then really become a civilised society.
Arguments have been made today that the bill is just so complicated, that we will never be able to do this—that we will have to work so hard to do it. We have a universal health service, universal education and universal benefits, we provide universal baby boxes and free prescriptions, and we can put men and women on the moon—yet people are suggesting that, somehow, this is just all too difficult. It is not all too difficult. We can easily—
Will the member give way?
No, thank you. Let us not bring Mr Dornan back into the equation.
It is nonsense to suggest that this is all too difficult. I will happily work with anyone in the chamber; I always make that offer. We can take the bill forward and introduce a progressive scheme that deals with the indignity of period poverty and makes the Parliament shine.15:58
Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
I am pleased to speak in this stage 1 debate. As a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee, which is excellently chaired by its convener, James Dornan, I have had an opportunity to reflect in detail on the important subject of period dignity and access to period products. It is important to place the debate in the proper context of the world-leading action—which we have heard about—that our SNP Government has already taken to address the issue.
We have seen the roll-out of free period products in our hospitals, schools, colleges, universities, and community settings including libraries and local sports clubs. Notwithstanding inaccurate media reports to the contrary, that is the Government’s position. There is, of course, no means testing for access to the products. Considerable sums of money have been expended in support of roll-out: as the cabinet secretary said, £15 million has been spent since 2017.
I think that we all recognise that the non-legislative route has, to date, facilitated speedy delivery and—which is important—flexibility to respond with delivery that reflects how things are working on the ground and what could be done better. The non-legislative route has allowed roll-out to take place apace, and has ensured that more than half a million women across the country have access to free period products. That is a tremendous achievement by the Scottish Government, and is very well done.
The Scottish Government should also be commended for working hard to address, at the same time, the important issue of the stigma that attaches to periods, which has been mentioned by members. I welcome the current “Let’s call periods, periods” campaign in that regard, which is doing a power of work to break down that stigma.
That is where matters currently stand. Thanks to the efforts of our cabinet secretary and SNP Scottish Government, Scotland is a world leader in promoting period dignity and access to period products.
How does the bill fit into the comprehensive network of action that has been taken? That is what the majority of the committee members had concerns about. First, there is concern that this so-called framework bill is, in fact, a bill without a framework. Secondly, a number of the key premises that underlie the bill—for example, the voucher-scheme delivery mechanism that Monica Lennon currently proposes—do not appear to have much support. Sandra White raised some obvious concerns about proceeding down that route.
Thirdly, of particular importance is the total lack of clarity about costs, with Monica Lennon having suggested, as we have heard, annual costs of around £9.7 million, whereas the Scottish Government has suggested that costs are likely to be in the region of £24.1 million per annum. Hence, notwithstanding that every member of the committee supports the intention of the bill, the majority of committee members feel that more work is needed to clarify the final costs before legislation should be contemplated.
Curiously and rather worryingly, on the key issue of costs, in these times of great Tory austerity, Monica Lennon suggested at committee that the moneys to pay for what is proposed could simply be shaved off something else. I asked Monica Lennon at committee what was the something else that was to suffer, but I did not get an answer. Her current approach does not appear to reflect her admission at committee—this is what she said verbatim—that actually
“most women and girls ... can afford”—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 15 January 2020; c 4-5.]
period products. However, that approach does not appear to be the one that she is currently pursuing.
Since publication of the committee’s report on 5 February 2020, many comments have been made. I have listened to the voices of young women who have expressed strongly the feeling that, at the end of the day, the signal that is sent is of paramount importance, and that the signal can be delivered only by way of legislation. I, for one—as the Deputy Presiding Officer might recall—well understand the importance of legislation as a signal.
On that basis, I will support the general principles of the bill at stage 1. However, I note that not to reflect on the significant concerns that have been raised about the bill in its current form would serve no one. Those concerns must be allayed in the work that is to come. I am up for that work and hope that Monica Lennon and, indeed, other members of Parliament are, too.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)
I remind members that there is some time in hand, if they want to extend their speeches a little. I call Annie Wells, to be followed by Gillian Martin.
Ms Wells, please. Oh—there you are.16:03
Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)
I know I am wee, but come on.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk about how we ensure that everyone has access to sanitary products. First, as other members have done, I record my thanks to Monica Lennon for introducing the bill. She deserves credit for all her fantastic work in getting the bill to this point.
The evidence is that we need to do more to make sure that no one is denied access to sanitary products through poverty. Across the UK, one in 10 girls cannot afford to buy menstrual products. Plan International UK’s survey on period poverty found that one in seven girls has struggled to afford sanitary wear, and that one in five girls has changed to a less suitable sanitary product due to cost. Girlguiding Scotland’s “Girls in Scotland 2018” survey report stated that 13 per cent of girls aged 13 to 25 knew a girl of their age who had experienced period poverty. So, we know that there is work to be done.
I and a number of Scottish Conservatives have supported the aims of the bill from its early stages. It has support among our councillors in Glasgow, Edinburgh and across Scotland. They have signed a letter calling on all MSPs to back the bill. They note that the bill will be an important step towards normalising menstruation and helping to end the stigma around periods.
In particular, I pay tribute to Lauren Bennie, who is one of our activists in the Glasgow Conservatives. She has consistently pushed the issue within our party and has fought to make sure that we support the bill. Lauren has organised support and has worked hard to bring the Scottish Conservatives to this point. I am delighted that we have in our party people like Lauren who are so willing and enthusiastic to stand up for what they think is right.
However, we have concerns about the practicalities and the type of scheme that is proposed in the bill. The Local Government and Communities Committee did not support the general principles of the bill for several compelling reasons. Its report stated that although committee members are unanimous in their support for the intentions that underpin the bill, they are not persuaded that legislation is required. Their concerns also focussed on the lack of clarity around the true costs of a universal scheme, and what that scheme would look like.
Concerning the voucher scheme, the committee noted that such a scheme could create stigma and an additional barrier to access, and it does not support that as a method of accessing products. As we have also heard, Unite the union said that
“those who most need the free products are the ones who are almost guaranteed not to ask for them. They are so embarrassed and depressed about their situation that they are the least likely to register.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 18 December 2019; c 18.]
There are also concerns about section 6—about passing legislation that would impose on additional, as yet unidentified, public bodies a duty to provide products, and the cost of doing so. The Scottish Government would be expected to meet the cost, but the exact figures have proved to be difficult to establish. The written submission from the Scottish Government said that the financial memorandum’s stated cost of £9.7 million for delivering the scheme was significantly underestimated. Its own calculations showed, as we have heard, that estimated product and delivery costs, on the same uptake levels, would be about £24 million. That is a significant difference. The majority of committee members are concerned about that disparity on costs, and about the fact that there is little clarity, at this stage, on what the scheme would ultimately cost if the legislation were to be passed.
While COSLA supports the overall aims of the bill, it, too, has concerns about the cost. In a written submission, it stated:
“the full cost of delivering the intent of the Bill maybe significantly higher than outlined in the financial memorandum.”
It is also worth acknowledging the work that has already been done by the Scottish Government. Its scheme has ensured that millions of free sanitary products are available in schools, colleges and universities across Scotland. It is very positive that every local authority is taking part, and that extension of the scheme beyond term time and into the school holidays is being sought.
At UK level, we are seeing similar progress. This year, the UK Government announced a new scheme to give pupils easy access to period products at schools and colleges. The scheme is about making sure that young people do not miss out on lessons because of periods. However, it is also about breaking down stigma, which I think is just as important.
I am pleased, therefore, that there is consensus across Parliament at this stage, and I look forward to trying to improve the bill so that we can send a message that no one in Scotland should go through period poverty.16:09
Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
What a long way we have come. We have a substantial squad of period dignity warriors; some of them are in the public gallery, some of them are in the Parliament, and lots of them are out in civic society. Collectively, there is no one person who should be congratulated for doing all the work in the area; it is an endeavour that has crossed parties and society. A lot of people should be giving themselves a pat on the back, not least Monica Lennon, who has pursued the bill.
Annabelle Ewing talked about sending a “strong signal”, and the very fact that we are talking about period dignity in our national Parliament sends a strong signal that goes a long way towards breaking the stigma and taboo around periods, which is just one of the issues that women and girls have to deal with in their everyday lives.
I am really proud of the work that we have already done to address the lack of access to period products in this country. I am hugely proud of it, and it has all happened very quickly in the past three years. When I entered this Parliament, one of the first things that I did was arrange to meet Government ministers to explore how we could expand on our manifesto commitment to provide period products in all education settings in order to address the gaps in our society where women have limited access to these products, which are fundamental to our health, self-esteem, hygiene and dignity.
As was mentioned earlier—Andy Wightman alluded to it—my colleague Julie Hepburn and I worked to put in place policy and delivery mechanisms around the policy motion that we tabled at SNP national council on a targeted measure that would mean that anyone who had periods could access products. As we took the arguments to Government, we had huge help and support from colleagues in Women for Independence, Scottish Women’s Aid and beyond. I believe that some of the colleagues who helped me with that work are in the public gallery today.
We based our idea on a scheme similar to that for access to condoms, but with an s:card rather than a c:card. We took that to Government to start the discussion, and I pay tribute to my colleague Angela Constance, who, in her speech, was characteristically modest about the work that she did. She, along with her officials, worked hard to explore the policy ideas and mechanisms that Julie and I brought to her. As we had those discussions, we very quickly found that the s:card would be administratively onerous and expensive. However, the Government did not shut the door on us but worked with us to find better ways of achieving our overall goal of ending period poverty. I thank Aileen Campbell for the substantial work that she has done to deliver on that early work, taking the CFINE pilot—which Ms Constance oversaw—and rolling it out across the country with great success.
I firmly believe that, as a result of those mechanisms, virtually no woman or girl need go without period products. We are already world leaders in this area. I see the delivery of that policy in my constituency, where women and girls can go into a wide range of community spaces—not just schools—and find the products that they need at no cost. I also think that privately run public spaces have followed on voluntarily as a result of our talking about the issue and opening up the conversation around periods, which we should all be very proud of.
Moving on to the bill, I have to be honest and say that—as Monica Lennon knows—I remain unconvinced that legislation will achieve the goal of ending period poverty, and I worry about the lack of delivery mechanisms in the bill. If I thought that legislation would work, I might have pursued it myself. I was really interested to see what Monica Lennon would come up with in answer to some of the delivery problems that I encountered. I am slightly concerned about the costs, which others have mentioned, and the lack of delivery mechanisms in the bill. I am also slightly worried that our looking at those issues could slow down the very effective measures that have already been put in place by the Scottish Government. I hope that that will not be the case.
Nevertheless, I believe in the general policy intent and in the general principle that everyone who menstruates, regardless of their circumstances, should have access to these essential items. As some members have mentioned, it is not just about poverty; domestic abuse could also be a barrier for people. It is for those reasons that I will support the bill at stage 1, but with a view to lodging a number of amendments to it at stage 2, which I hope will tackle some of the significant and substantial concerns that the committee has. I look forward to seeing what changes Monica Lennon makes to her bill in the light of our discussion of the issues in this debate and the committee’s report.
As someone who has taken a member’s bill successfully through the Parliament in their first year, I am under no illusion about how hard it is to draft legislation that will stand up to scrutiny and, more important, that will provide a sound platform on which to deliver its goals. It is very easy to come up with a good idea; it is much harder to put it into law in a way that delivers. Ms Lennon has pushed on with legislation, and I took another path that has led to half a million women now having access who previously did not. The Government has delivered on that commitment.
There is merit in putting something in legislation to prevent future Governments from policy change or budget commitments that would reverse good work. However, as members across the chamber know, laws, too, can be changed—we saw that recently when the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 was reversed. Nevertheless, I understand the messaging on the call from girls and women for period dignity to be enshrined in law as a fundamental right. It is a good signal to society that we are serious about tackling the issue.
Ms Lennon has a lot of work to do at stage 2 to make the bill achieve those aims, but, if there are still women out there who will benefit from the bill’s proposals and we can fill in all the gaps, it is incumbent on all of us to try to find a way of making that happen. I will not only give my support at stage 1; I will try my best to be part of what will be a team of people to make this work.16:16
Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)
I thank the Presiding Officer for fitting me in for a short contribution to the debate on the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, which Monica Lennon introduced on 23 April 2019. It is undoubtedly bold, landmark legislation, which has reminded me of when the Scottish Parliament, in 2004, passed my member’s bill on breastfeeding, which became the Breastfeeding (Scotland) Act 2005. It was the first member’s bill in this new building, and questions about cost were also asked at that time, most notably by the Conservatives. As with the free provision of period products, the legal protection of breastfeeding in public places was important to women’s lives, as voluntary codes had simply not worked. That was why we needed legislation then and it is why we need legislation now on this issue.
In 2004, I said:
“Devolution gave us the opportunity to mould a different kind of politics in Scotland. The success of this bill indicates that this parliament with its critical mass of female members, is capable of operation without the traditional adversarial approach of older parliaments such as Westminster.”
With all parties, if not all members, set to support the bill today, I feel that those words are still relevant.
My bill was originally deemed by the Presiding Officer at the time, David Steel, to involve a reserved matter, but Mike Dailly and I rewrote it to make it deal with a devolved issue, and the Presiding Officer agreed its competence. Originally, tackling period poverty was decreed by some to be a reserved matter, but Monica Lennon has persisted in introducing a bill that is competent and should be supported.
It is vital that the bill will place a duty on ministers to ensure that period products are made available free of charge on a universal basis. Problems with access to period products have a detrimental effect on the health and wellbeing of women—I am talking not just about women with endometriosis but about women with thyroid problems and women at the menopause. Furthermore, some women have very light periods for three days, just because that is how they are, whereas others have heavy periods for a whole week. How are we going to police such differences in prescribing period products?
Plan International UK has referred to a survey in 2017 that found that one in 10 of 1,000 young women had struggled to afford period products. I think that most—if not all—of us agree that that is wrong, but some people have struggled with the concept of universal provision. Universal provision is important because there are too many ways in which women can be missed by targeted provision. They might not be poor enough, they might not have access to their own money or they might work in a male-dominated environment in which no one thinks about access to period products. Whatever the reason, we need universal free provision.
When I visited Malawi on behalf of the Scottish Parliament, I bought period products and pants to take with me, as well as the usual pens, pencils and notebooks, because I had been advised that that was a reason for girls to miss school. It was shocking to find that it was also a reason for girls in modern-day Scotland to miss school. I applaud the fact that there are now free period products in their schools.
Monica Lennon has worked hard to make the case for tackling period poverty and providing dignity and practical help, and she is to be commended for that. I hope that the Scottish Government is committed to making the bill work. I trust that the bill will be improved at stage 2, using all the expertise of the civil service and its knowledge, and that the bill will not be wrecked at stage 2.
I thank Monica Lennon for all her hard work, passion and commitment in getting the bill to stage 1. I hope that, at the end of this process, the legislation gets on to the statute book.16:20
Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)
I congratulate Monica Lennon and her team on getting her important bill to this stage; its principles are admirable and it has my support and that of the Scottish Green Party.
The right to sanitation has been recognised as a human right by the United Nations since 2010 and that right obliges Governments to ensure that their citizens can enjoy clean, available, acceptable and accessible sanitation. If someone does not have access to period products, they cannot have dignified and sanitary menstruation, so access to period products is absolutely key to that right.
Alex Cole-Hamilton and Elaine Smith mentioned Plan International UK, which said that 10 per cent of girls in the UK—in this wealthy country—have been unable to afford period products. For some reason, period products are regarded by some as a luxury—a luxury for which women should be charged. Why is it that, in 2020, toilet paper is seen as a necessity, but period products are not?
Does the member agree that period poverty can often mean that some girls have to use toilet paper as a period product, which is shocking in itself?
Absolutely—it is shocking and it is wholly unacceptable. This is so often characterised as a women’s issue, but it is not; it is a social justice issue, an equalities issue, and a rights issue. It is estimated that a woman will, over her lifetime, spend approximately £5,000 on period products. Being financially penalised for a natural bodily function is neither equitable nor just. Being unable to afford or access period products denies women access to education, work, sport and so much more.
The Scottish Government’s efforts to provide period products are hugely welcome, but many individuals—who have contacted all the members in the chamber, I am sure—and organisations such as Engender want this targeted approach to be broadened to meet the needs of all who require access. The experiences of older women, trans and non-binary people, disabled women, women for whom English is not their first language and refugee women, for example, must also be taken into account.
Embedding the principle of access in legislation would mark real progress. It would send the message to women and girls that their health and wellbeing are important and will be protected by this Parliament. On the Bloody Good Period website, an asylum-seeking woman living in London gets right to the heart of the matter. She says:
“It is something that women have to go through every month. It is discrimination, everyone should have access.”
The work done by that website revealed that 75 per cent of the asylum-seeking women it spoke to struggled to obtain period products, often for an extended time.
The bill presents an opportunity to improve the lives of women and girls in a meaningful way. Too many women and girls are being denied a basic human right. The fact that we are discussing this issue in the chamber and the fact that we have been discussing it in Parliament and in meetings and debates for some months will do much to take forward this agenda. I really hope that we bring about a cultural change, and I think that it is fair to say that there are organisations out there that are getting on board.
We need to get to the stage where, no matter where we go, access to these products is something that we take for granted, so that whether we are in a hotel, a restaurant, or a sports club changing room, these products are just there when we need them, because when they are not there, it really hampers our ability to go about our daily life in any sort of meaningful way.
The committee report states that Unite, Engender, Plan International UK and the Scottish Youth Parliament
“agreed that a universal scheme that provides for everyone by right was the best way to meet any gaps in provision.”
“we need one scheme that works, that takes account of the various regional and geographical issues across Scotland and that runs without a hugely administrative or overly complex process.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 18 December 2019; c 22.]
I am absolutely certain that this Parliament has the ability to deliver such a scheme. It is often said that politics is the art of the possible. This Parliament can commit to work together to deliver a right to period dignity in Scotland.16:25
Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)
I congratulate Monica Lennon and recognise the tremendous amount of work that she has done, not only in bringing this bill to the Parliament, but in helping to open up the discussion about periods and the reality of menstruation in Scotland. The fact that we are openly debating periods in the Parliament and not speaking in hushed tones while we do so is testament to the cultural progress that we have made in removing the absurd shame and secrecy around women’s reproductive health, which has prevailed for far too long, as Alison Johnstone just eloquently said.
There have been a series of eloquent and passionate speeches, which is absolutely appropriate, because this is about how we make progress from today onwards.
I welcome the investment put in place by the Scottish Government to date to support the provision of free products in our education facilities. I am very glad to see that the cabinet secretary has now signed up to helping us to agree to the general principles of the bill at stage 1, so that we can work together to put the current provisions into law and discuss how we build on them.
I pay testament to the fact that, in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament being established, we had a women 50:50 campaign to make sure that women made it into this place. We have had support from men, but the debate has been led by women. We have had women leading in this Parliament. Elaine Smith talked about the breastfeeding legislation, and there has been work on violence against women and access to childcare. We have made sure that these are mainstream issues that deserve funding and are acted on by the Government and supported across the parties. That is what we have seen today. We should all celebrate the effective and tireless campaigning that we have had in the past few weeks, because it has brought us to this point. I hope that the bill will get to stage 2, so that we can make it fit for purpose. As Angela Constance said, we should lock in the progress that we have made thus far.
That is exactly why, alongside Andy Wightman, I committed to supporting the bill as a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee. I have been fortunate to be able to follow the progress of the bill through stage 1. I join others in thanking our committee clerks and the range of organisations that not only gave us written evidence but met the committee to discuss the issue and to give us a reality check on what women’s lives are like now and why the bill is needed. I commend in particular the trade union activists and the Scottish Youth Parliament, who have done so much to bring this issue to the centre of our political debate.
Our committee report states:
“We heard that disabled people, those not currently in education or work, individuals living in rural areas, homeless people, refugees, trans and non-binary individuals and those suffering from mental health issues or in coercive relationships may be most at risk of missing out.”
There is more work to do. When we get to stage 2, we need to make sure that we get a bill that will take us forward. It will not do everything from day 1, but I hope that it will bag the progress that has been made to date and look at where we go next.
I will focus on funding, the voucher issue and the design of the bill. We need analysis of the impact of current schemes, especially in relation to costings. The committee received evidence that different costings were available. We need to learn from the experiences of North Ayrshire, Aberdeen and Hey Girls in making products available to those who need them and to make sure that, where there have been cost reductions, they can be built in.
I was really struck by the sheer cost, which has been mentioned by several members today, including Graeme Simpson. There is an amount that we think is the cost, but then we hear the range of experiences. The fact that we have to have period products in food banks really brings home that this is something that we need to act on.
We need to look at procurement and the types of products. The benefits of more environmentally friendly products have been well articulated. Although those products are more expensive to buy in the short term, they are good for the environment and more cost-effective in the long run. There are funding issues that we need to look at.
I want to pick up on the voucher issue, which one or two members have mentioned. I have certainly discussed that issue with Monica Lennon as we have debated what should stay in the bill and what should go. It is worth reflecting on the fact that the bill does not require there to be a voucher scheme—that is an option that ministers could, but might not, use. They could consider it. It is also not the case that people would be required to provide identification to access products.
We need to consider the details of the bill. I turn to one of the reasons why I was keen to support it. Although there is work to do to get the bill right, it is critical that its design enables the Scottish Government to look at the details of the regulations that come after the primary legislation. Like other members, I have been advised not to put too much detail in a bill because things will be done by regulations, and civil servants and key stakeholders will discuss them afterwards.
I, too, have tried to put bills through the Parliament, and that is very difficult—I take that on board. Sarah Boyack raised the issue of the voucher scheme. The bill mentions a voucher scheme and identification; it says that a person must provide sufficient proof of the person’s identity. We need to look at that issue at stage 2. I realise that Sarah Boyack recognises that, but that has to be mentioned.
Absolutely. If members look at the details of the bill, they will see that the words “Ministers may” are used. How things will be designed is a key issue.
It is critical to listen to the evidence that we have received. Although I support the bill going through stage 1 and reaching stage 2, that does not mean that I agree with every element of it. After today, there is a need for us to get together and discuss the evidence. Getting it right is a tough job for the committee, but I am convinced that we can do it.
We need to challenge one of the things about the design of the bill that has been criticised. Details are left to regulations, and we have a precedent for that. The Transport (Scotland) Act 2005 did that. It gave certain categories of people a right to access free transport, but the details were left to regulations. The role of ministers and civil servants is absolutely crucial, because there is expertise that we all need to listen to. However, not everything goes in the bill.
Over the next few weeks, the critical issue for us will be agreeing what will stay in the bill. Whatever form the bill takes, it is up to us to ensure that it includes the key principle that no one’s dignity is compromised by a service that does not help those who desperately need help and have missed out for far too long. Let us hold on to all the passion that there has been in the chamber today and hold on to the reality check.
Even though we have seen some excellent progress, we are not there yet. We can build on delivery in the country by communities and key organisations. Over the next few weeks, let us pull out all the stops collectively and collaboratively and work together across the Parliament so that we have a bill that we can all “be proud of”—to quote Aileen Campbell’s opening remarks. I agreed with her 100 per cent; that is rare, and that will be in the Official Report. There are times when we in the Parliament can agree on the principles of bills. Let us pass the bill at stage 1, work constructively, look at the evidence and ensure that, when we come back to the chamber at stage 3, we can all agree to the bill because we have amended and strengthened it and put the principles into it. That is the job that we need to do over the next few weeks.16:33
Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)
Overall, this has been a useful debate. As other members have, I pay tribute to Monica Lennon for all her hard work and passion in campaigning on period poverty since she was elected. I also pay tribute to other members across the chamber who have done that. I welcome to the public gallery and the chamber those who have helped to support Monica Lennon’s campaign and have campaigned for action for some time. It is also important to recognise what all committee members have done to try to take forward constructive work on the bill.
I know from my time trying to move forward Frank’s law and the campaign to end age discrimination in free personal care that building alliances across the chamber is often not easy and that it is often a major challenge for MSPs to get the Government’s attention, get it to listen and to come on side. I pay tribute to Monica Lennon for what she has achieved.
The debate has highlighted issues about non-government MSPs introducing bills to the Parliament. Our non-government bills unit does a fantastic job, but it can provide only limited support to MSPs, who have to do all the consultation—I know; I did that—and use our limited resource to pull together the consultation responses. The debate has highlighted that.
Sarah Boyack gave an excellent speech. It is important that we do not forget that we are at stage 1. This is how our system develops legislation and gets it right and I hope that the debate presents an opportunity. I am pleased to have seen and heard a constructive, cross-party approach emerge from the debate. I hope that we can take that forward at stages 2 and 3, as the bill progresses.
I will use my time to pay tribute to a number of organisations that are leading the work on the issue in my Lothian region. Gillian Martin outlined the progress that has been made. It is also important to put on record the work of some of the supermarkets and private companies that have made things happen on the ground.
The Oxgangs community centre in the south-west of the capital has already taken the positive step of making free period products available to centre users. It has had that in place for some years. I pay tribute to the centre management’s forward thinking in helping to fund and deliver access to period products.
James Dornan highlighted the committee evidence. I know from a number of conversations that I have had with young girls that asking parents or guardians for money for, or access to, period products can often be hugely embarrassing and difficult. That is an important issue to consider as we work on the bill. How do people find out about accessing products that they may still be embarrassed about, even though the products are free and available?
Monica Lennon outlined how the bill will make sure that the voluntary schemes and provision that we have seen develop in recent years now lead to wider provision in communities across Scotland. That is at the heart of the bill that we must see improved as we go forward to stages 2 and 3.
During the debate, members raised a number of health issues related to the bill and it is important to look at some of the very specific health aspects that were highlighted. Alex Cole-Hamilton mentioned toxic shock syndrome and Graham Simpson mentioned endometriosis. Elaine Smith outlined her work on breastfeeding. The Parliament must have more opportunity to debate women’s health. I have spent a number of years discussing heart health for women. It is still the case in Scotland that a high number of women die from sudden cardiac arrest. The death rate in that area is increasing and must improve outcomes.
The menopause, including access to services and treatment, has become something that many members and people outside this chamber are discussing. Mandy Rhodes is one of the journalists who has led that discussion. This week, I met a constituent to discuss access to collagen replacement injections and she said how difficult the waiting times make access to a treatment that can make a huge difference to her menopause. I hope that the debate on the bill will give us opportunities to debate more women’s health issues in future.
Graham Simpson outlined a number of issues and the further significant work that will be needed on the bill. I welcome Aileen Campbell’s constructive comments on the bill. We must acknowledge the concerns highlighted in the committee’s report when it described the bill as
“legislation that would impose a duty on, as yet unidentified, public bodies.”
That is important. There should be a wider consultation with the NHS about how this can be taken forward. The work that it is already undertaking in some health boards is also important.
It is important that stages 2 and 3 present a constructive opportunity for clarity and to take forward the regulations, guidance and frameworks that will be needed, and to identify any new public bodies—beyond schools, councils, public toilets and council facilities—to which the bill allocates responsibilities so that the resulting spending commitments that the Parliament will be placing on those bodies are also identified.
The committee report points to the important issue of sustainable finance, and I think that that is probably what all of us have highlighted throughout the debate. I hope that, as the bill progresses, the issue will be addressed. It certainly needs to be dealt with in the financial memorandum for stages 2 and 3. The final emphasis on who will pick up the bill for the service is vital.
I was pleased to support Monica Lennon when she first brought her outline proposals for the bill to the Parliament. It is important for MSPs to hear those arguments and add value to them. I am more than happy to support the bill at stage 1. More than one in five women face period poverty at some point in their lives but no one in Scotland, in this day and age, should have to.
I believe that the bill—once we have worked together to make it workable—has the potential to end period poverty and deliver period dignity. I hope that we in the Parliament can work together to deliver just that.16:40
I thank all members who have spoken in the debate, largely suspending party politics and, instead, seeking to build on the cross-party consensus around ensuring that everyone who needs to access period products can do so. That ability to rise above party politics will be essential as we work to get the bill into shape and, in the words of Angela Constance—although I might be paraphrasing—ensure that we are guided by the needs of the women we all seek to help.
I am unashamed of the pride that I feel about the groundbreaking action that we have taken in the past two years. We are setting an example to the world, and countries within and beyond the UK have sought our advice and learning in considering their own action. More than 400,000 pupils and students are able to access free products in their place of learning; 60,000 people use services provided by FareShare and its vast range of partners; and around 70,000 individuals can benefit from the availability of free products in their local communities. I think that the impact of that is summed up well by a school pupil from Dundee who said:
“Girls ... know where to get the things they need. Now they don’t miss classes ... and they are more confident because it is not something they have to worry about.”
Many members across the chamber have made important and effective speeches about why action, whether through legislation or not, is essential in terms of tackling period poverty and period dignity. Pauline McNeill captured far more than the dry facts and figures around the bill when she reminded us of the often traumatic experience that young girls go through when their period starts—body changes, pain, mood shifts and the realisation that that will go on for most of their adult lives. It is a massive thing for a young person to cope with. The fact that that can be compounded by a sense of embarrassment or shame or by a lack of access to products is why we must do more to support our young people.
Gillian Martin powerfully outlined the speed of the shift in culture across Scotland in the past two years. I pay tribute to her for her commitment and for the role that she has played in that culture shift.
Angela Constance also deserves recognition for her work on the pilot and for reminding us that period poverty is fundamentally about a lack of income, and we must not forget to tackle that as well.
The members of the committee—Annabelle Ewing, Kenneth Gibson, Graham Simpson, Sarah Boyack, Andy Wightman and Alexander Stewart, led by James Dornan—also deserve a huge amount of recognition for their work with regard to ensuring that we have good legislation. Their expertise and commitment will be required to help to shape the bill as it progresses through stage 2. I sincerely look forward to seeing a lot more of them in the months to come, throughout that process.
I am pleased that the committee has commended the world-leading progress that has been made by the Scottish Government in enabling access to free products. It also agrees with our partnership approach, promoting local responses to meet local need—an agility that is essential and must be protected, and which could be undermined by the bill as it is drafted. We will all need to work hard to address that.
I share the committee’s view that there are aspects of the bill that require improvement, such as those around the issue of whose needs may not be being met, and that that can be addressed through gathering evidence of uptake, costs and best practice—that is, of course, always going to happen when a programme such as this is being rolled out for the first time ever.
That is why we will continue to work with local authorities and FareShare to ensure that gaps in current provision that are identified through our planned review are addressed, to maximise availability to groups who find it harder to access current provision. I remain ambitious about Scotland continuing to lead the way internationally on making access to free products widely available, for all who need them.
The debate has made it clear that we will need to compromise and work together if we are to find a way to agree legislation that will meet everyone’s aims, ensuring that no one struggles to access period products, whatever the reason, and maintaining our world-leading, locally flexible approach, in a cost-effective way.
As I have indicated, we recognise that there is more to do in our drive for period justice. We are not resting on our laurels. Forby today’s debate on the bill, we have plans in place for further work to build on our existing policies, while we work to agree on suitable legislation.
The first action in that regard is a locator app, which is due to go live in April and will enable people easily to see where products are available nearby and whether products are available for emergency single use or bulk supply. That means that, wherever someone is in the country, they should be able to find somewhere nearby where free products are available. Last week, I attended a development session for the app. I was impressed by its potential to further embed our world-leading position in this policy area.
We are also planning work, in partnership with the education arm of Hey Girls CIC, to develop training, online learning resources and period-friendly certification for organisations, including private sector organisations.
There was discussion in the committee about people who need a more-than-average amount of period products. A recommendation was made on the issue. In response to that recommendation, and in response to points that Alex Cole-Hamilton, Elaine Smith and Angela Constance made, I can say that we commit to consider what additional access to free products can be provided for women who have particular health needs that lead to excessive bleeding.
Finally, we recognise the success of our initial action to make period products available, free, to people in education. According to the survey that Young Scot published last month, more than 80 per cent of pupils and students who had accessed free products in their place of learning said that they could access their preferred product and that the availability of products had a positive impact. We accept the desire to protect that progress, which is why we commit to bring forward regulations that will place a duty on local authorities to make period products available in schools by the start of the next academic year. That will lock the approach into law, as Monica Lennon and stakeholders have requested.
We continue to believe that the bill poses significant risks, which include the potential cost, the lack of clarity on delivery and the potential loss of flexibility. We cannot suspend reality and ignore those risks—however much some people would like us to—lest we undo the good work that we have done to date, which members of all parties in this Parliament have recognised.
Having said all that, no one in Government disagrees that there is a need to ensure that period dignity exists in our country. That is why the Scottish Government is delivering right now, and it is why we have agreed to build on our work by supporting the bill’s principles at stage 1, as a symbol of good faith and in recognition of the broad consensus on the bill’s general principles.
I hope that the consensus that we have heard—mostly—in the debate remains as we work together to fix the bill and emerge as the world leader that we all want Scotland to be on the issue. The debate should set the tone for the rest of the work that has to come. A lot of work will have to be put into making the bill fit for purpose so that it can deliver on the aspirations that I think that members share. Judging by today’s speeches, we are all up for that. When the debate concludes, we will have to roll up our sleeves and work together to make something of which Scotland can be proud.16:48
I enjoyed the debate more than I expected to. I thank all members who were in the chamber today and all members who spoke in the debate. Their speeches were very thoughtful.
I hope that the people who watched the debate from the public gallery and at home also enjoyed the debate and feel encouraged and represented. I hope that they feel that we have listened to them and taken their views on board.
I am pleased that everyone agrees that, in 2020, it is unacceptable for periods still to be a taboo subject.
Annabelle Ewing highlighted the initiative #TalkPeriods, which the Scottish Government has rolled out. It is an important campaign that is trying to address stigma, and I encourage everyone to get on Twitter and other social media, use the hashtag #TalkPeriods and take part in the conversation.
I am genuinely grateful for everyone’s contribution today, but I am grateful to the cabinet secretary in particular. It is very significant that the Scottish Government has already invested £15 million in the provision of free period products. We have seen progress made in other parts of the UK, but I believe that Scotland is leading the way.
I agree with the cabinet secretary that we should support local flexibility. That is key. What will work in South Lanarkshire might not work well in the Highlands and Islands, so any scheme that comes forward has to respect localism. I believe that we can work constructively to meet our shared objectives.
I also put on record my thanks to the Local Government and Communities Committee and to the members of that committee who have spoken in the debate. James Dornan referenced the welcome shift in narrative from period poverty to period dignity for all, which is an important step forward. Many campaigners who have sent us briefings and, in particular, Unite the union, which has its own period dignity campaign—I even have the T-shirt—make that point very well.
Andy Wightman hit the nail on the head when he said that the bill is fundamentally about the creation of a statutory right that can be delivered only through legislation. That is what we are being asked to support. I also agree with him that we need to properly evaluate the schemes that have been rolled out. He made a fair point about the timing of commencement as it is set out, I believe, in section 2(4) of the bill—Andy is nodding and keeping me right—and I am happy to look at his suggestion that we give the Government a bit more time before further roll-out and to address it in an amendment. These are the kinds of discussions that we need to have, and I am sure that we can address that matter at stage 2.
Alex Cole-Hamilton talked about the issue as being also one of human dignity and said that we have to end the silence and the stigma around menstruation. He also talked about the cost benefit to the NHS of getting this right. Toxic shock syndrome is rare, but it is a real issue. A couple of years ago, while I was working on the campaign, I read about a student at a university in Glasgow who was studying in the library and, because she was concerned about how much money she had, had a tampon in her body for far too long and ended up in intensive care for five days. There was a human cost to that, because she almost died, but the cost to the NHS was around £5,000 a day. Alex Cole-Hamilton also talked about the mental health benefits of ending issues with body confidence and isolation. That is the value in doing this: there is a cost to not taking the bill forward.
Angela Constance’s speech was excellent. I absolutely agree with her that we have to address poverty and its root cause—full stop. In her passing the baton to Aileen Campbell, we have seen fantastic progress. As a feminist, I find it amazing to see other feminists in Government doing the right thing for women and girls across the country. Neil Findlay also made the point about addressing poverty at its root.
The debate leading up to the bill has largely focused on whether a targeted approach that focuses on low incomes is better than a universal approach. I make no apology for the fact that universal free provision of period products is ambitious—it is at the heart of the bill for a very good reason. The policy intent of the bill is clear: access to period products should be a right and they should be available to all who need them. With the bill, we can eradicate period poverty and, in doing so, normalise menstruation and smash stigma.
I want the good work that has been rolled out already to continue. The Government’s current approach has been an important step, but, in committee, all of us recognised that some gaps still exist and that some groups are being missed out. None of us want a situation in which we are discussing who is more deserving of period products than others, or discussions about how much people are bleeding. None of us want to go down that route. Access to period products is a necessity, therefore I believe that free access should be an option that is open to all.
If the bill proceeds to stage 2, I will, of course, work with all members and listen further to their concerns and ideas.
Monica Lennon refers to the recommendation in the committee’s report that women who have specific medical needs should have access to period products on prescription. If we do not provide that, how does she think that women who need a lot of products should be able to access them?
The committee has highlighted some important issues, but I have also looked at BMA Scotland’s briefing and have listened to Dr Alison Scott, a clinical gynaecologist who advises the Government on the women’s health plan. Their argument is that a quarter of women experience heavy bleeding—if that is the right term—and that their making GP appointments to get a prescription for that might not be the best use of GPs’ time. Of course, if women are concerned about their periods or cycles, we want them to be able to have conversations with their GPs if that is the appropriate route for them. Again, I would welcome further discussion of that subject at stage 2.
In her intervention on Pauline McNeill’s speech, Sandra White mentioned the voucher scheme. I can clarify that the only reference to that scheme in the bill is about putting a limit on the information that could be collected if the ministers wanted to go down that route. I pay tribute to campaigners such as Gillian Martin and Julie Hepburn, who had pursued that policy approach initially. However, I think that we have all realised that we have moved on and that a voucher scheme might not be the best approach. A similar scheme is in place for access to condoms, but, if we were to take a different approach for access to period products, I would absolutely support that. Again, I would be willing to discuss appropriate amendments on that subject with the cabinet secretary.
I thank Annabelle Ewing for her contribution, which she made through her tough, forensic approach to questioning at committee. It is right that we put ourselves through such questioning, because the legislation that we make must be fit for purpose. Ms Ewing’s legal background certainly shone through at the committee stage. I also thank her for continuing to listen to campaigners—especially the women and girls who told her that they would benefit from the legislation.
I recognise that we need to have further discussion on and consideration of costs. I sincerely advise members that, in drafting my proposals, I had looked at all the information on public record about the cost of rolling out in education settings the pilot scheme that has been conducted in Aberdeen. However, I will work closely with the Government to ensure that nothing has been missed out in the figures and that we identify savings where we can.
I do not know about other members, but I get lots of emails from people who are very keen that we help to promote access to reusable period products. I know that Michelle Ballantyne and others—especially the Scottish Greens—have made that point well. Right now, it costs up to £25 to buy a menstrual cup, depending on the brand, which is quite expensive for a young person to afford. I know that the Government work does this just now, but if the bill proceeds, we can look at making savings for our scheme and doing our bit for the environment, too. [Interruption.]
The Deputy Presiding Officer
Just a minute, Ms Lennon. I ask members to keep the mumbling down completely. I cannot hear any more, and it is important that I do.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
I also want to pick up on the Scottish Government’s recent—and welcome—announcement that it plans to work more closely with employers to ensure that they, too, are doing their bit. That does not fall within the scope of the bill, but I say to the cabinet secretary that I hope that the Government will work closely on that with the trade unions. Representatives of the Scottish Trades Union Congress spoke at the rally that took place outside the Parliament today, and I know that Unite the union is doing lots of good work in that area. On that point, I should refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests in that I am a member of both Unite and the GMB.
I also thank the Parliament’s cross-party group on construction—probably not the first place that we would think of in which to discuss the subject of periods—for its work. Again, I stress that the issue crosses portfolios and I hope that we can all work on it.
I hope that members will indulge me for a moment by allowing me to talk about the good work that is going on in my local region. In 2016, just after our members’ business debate on period poverty, South Lanarkshire College, which is based in East Kilbride, approached me and said that it would just get on with providing free products. It would not wait for legislation or national guidance—it would just do it. Such early pioneers have made possible all the progress that we have seen. I also thank Lanarkshire Carers Centre, whose representatives were at today’s rally, and Women’s Aid South Lanarkshire for doing their bit early on.
Further, I thank my colleague Joe Cullinane, in North Ayrshire, for his leadership. Early initiatives such as the one in that area have paved the way for the Government-backed initiatives that have been rolled out so successfully. It is important to acknowledge that we have strong foundations to build on, which is why I believe that the bill will be a success.
I am incredibly proud of the work that all of us have put into the bill and the wider campaign. The Scottish Government has shown great commitment, which I know will continue. Agreeing to the general principles of the bill will be a milestone moment for normalising menstruation in Scotland and will send out a signal to people in the country about how seriously the Parliament takes gender equality. We have more work to do but, together, we can put Scotland on the map as a true world leader in period dignity and equality. I look forward to continuing that work with MSPs across the chamber, and I thank them for their support.
25 February 2020
Vote at Stage 1
Vote at Stage 1 transcript
The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)
The first question is, that motion S5M-20752, in the name of Bill Kidd, on a proposal for a committee bill, be agreed to.
Motion agreed to,
That the Parliament agrees to the proposal for a Committee Bill, under Rule 9.15, contained in the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s 2nd Report, 2020 (Session 5), Scottish Parliament (Assistance for Political Parties) Bill (SP Paper 669).
The Presiding Officer
The second question is, that motion S5M-20756, in the name of Monica Lennon, on the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, be agreed to. Are we agreed?
The Presiding Officer
There will be a division.
Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)
Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Green)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Swinney, John (Perthshire North) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Stewart, David (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Smith, Elaine (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Russell, Michael (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Paterson, Gil (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Mundell, Oliver (Dumfriesshire) (Con)
Mitchell, Margaret (Central Scotland) (Con)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McKee, Ivan (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)
McArthur, Liam (Orkney Islands) (LD)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
Matheson, Michael (Falkirk West) (SNP)
Mason, Tom (North East Scotland) (Con)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Lockhart, Dean (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Lochhead, Richard (Moray) (SNP)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lamont, Johann (Glasgow) (Lab)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Johnstone, Alison (Lothian) (Green)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Hyslop, Fiona (Linlithgow) (SNP)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Harris, Alison (Central Scotland) (Con)
Harper, Emma (South Scotland) (SNP)
Hamilton, Rachael (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Grahame, Christine (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)
Gougeon, Mairi (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)
Golden, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Freeman, Jeane (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)
Forbes, Kate (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Fee, Mary (West Scotland) (Lab)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Ewing, Fergus (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Denham, Ash (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)
Davidson, Ruth (Edinburgh Central) (Con)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Constance, Angela (Almond Valley) (SNP)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Brown, Keith (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)
Briggs, Miles (Lothian) (Con)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Bibby, Neil (West Scotland) (Lab)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Beamish, Claudia (South Scotland) (Lab)
Ballantyne, Michelle (South Scotland) (Con)
Balfour, Jeremy (Lothian) (Con)
Baker, Claire (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Allan, Dr Alasdair (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
Adamson, Clare (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)
Dornan, James (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)
The Presiding Officer
The result of the division is: For 112, Against 0, Abstentions 1.
Motion agreed to,
That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill.
The Presiding Officer
I propose to put a single question on the three Parliamentary Bureau motions.
The question is, that motions S5M-21001, S5M-21002 and S5M-21003, in the name of Graeme Dey, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, be agreed to.
Motions agreed to,
That the Parliament agrees that—
Gordon Lindhurst be appointed to replace Alexander Stewart as a member of the Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Committee;
Oliver Mundell be appointed to replace Donald Cameron as a member of the Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Committee;
Gil Paterson be appointed to replace Tom Arthur as a member of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee;
Bill Bowman be appointed to replace Graham Simpson as a member of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee;
Gordon Lindhurst be appointed to replace Jeremy Balfour as a member of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee;
Alison Harris be appointed to replace Jamie Halcro Johnston as a member of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee;
Michelle Ballantyne be appointed to replace Gordon Lindhurst as a member of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee;
Alex Neil be appointed to replace Jenny Gilruth as a member of the Education and Skills Committee;
Alison Harris be appointed to replace Jamie Halcro Johnston as a member of the Education and Skills Committee;
Jamie Greene be appointed to replace Liz Smith as a member of the Education and Skills Committee;
Annie Wells be appointed to replace Rachael Hamilton as a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee;
Alison Harris be appointed to replace Annie Wells as a member of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee;
Maurice Golden be appointed to replace Oliver Mundell as a member of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee;
George Adam be appointed to replace Gordon MacDonald as a member of the Finance Committee;
Donald Cameron be appointed to replace Adam Tomkins as a member of the Finance Committee;
Alasdair Allan be appointed to replace Jenny Gilruth as a member of the Justice Committee;
Jeremy Balfour be appointed to replace Alexander Stewart as a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee;
Tom Mason be appointed to replace Brian Whittle as a member of the Public Petitions Committee;
Rachael Hamilton be appointed to replace Jamie Greene as a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee;
Tom Arthur be appointed to replace Alasdair Allan as a member of the Social Security Committee;
Graham Simpson be appointed to replace Michelle Ballantyne as a member of the Social Security Committee;
Alexander Stewart be appointed to replace Tom Mason as a member of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.
That the Parliament agrees that—
Rachael Hamilton be appointed to replace Dean Lockhart as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party substitute on the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee;
Oliver Mundell be appointed to replace Bill Bowman as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party substitute on the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee;
Maurice Golden be appointed to replace Tom Mason as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party substitute on the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee;
Liz Smith be appointed to replace Oliver Mundell as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party substitute on the Education and Skills Committee;
John Scott be appointed to replace Maurice Golden as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party substitute on the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee;
Miles Briggs be appointed to replace Jamie Greene as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party substitute on the Equalities and Human Rights Committee;
Gillian Martin be appointed to replace George Adam as the Scottish National Party substitute on the Finance Committee;
Adam Tomkins be appointed to replace Jamie Halcro Johnston as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party substitute on the Finance Committee;
Rhoda Grant be appointed to replace Sarah Boyack as the Scottish Labour Party substitute on the Finance and Constitution Committee;
Alexander Stewart be appointed to replace Tom Mason as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party substitute on the Local Government and Communities Committee;
Pauline McNeill be appointed to replace Anas Sarwar as the Scottish Labour Party substitute on the Local Government and Communities Committee;
Adam Tomkins be appointed to replace Finlay Carson as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party substitute on the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee;
Dean Lockhart be appointed to replace Finlay Carson as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party substitute on the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee;
James Dornan be appointed to replace Jenny Gilruth as the Scottish National Party substitute on the Social Security Committee;
Brian Whittle be appointed to replace Gordon Lindhurst as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party substitute on the Social Security Committee;
Liam Kerr be appointed to replace Edward Mountain as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party substitute on the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.
That the Parliament agrees to the following revisions to the remits of committees:
Name of Committee: Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee
Remit: To the remit set out in Rule 6.8 shall be added—Culture and tourism matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs.
New remit: To the remit set out in Rule 6.8 shall be added—culture matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture; tourism matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Tourism, and migration matters falling within the responsibility of the Minister for Public Finance and Migration.
Name of Committee: Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee
Remit: To consider and report on economy and fair work matters falling within the responsibilities of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work; matters relating to the digital economy within the responsibilities of the Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy, and matters relating to energy falling within the responsibilities of the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands.
New remit: To consider and report on economy and fair work matters falling within the responsibilities of the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture; matters relating to the digital economy within the responsibilities of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, and matters relating to energy falling within the responsibilities of the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands.
Name of Committee: Finance and Constitution Committee
Remit: To the remit set out in Rule 6.6 shall be added—Constitutional matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations
New remit: To the remit set out in Rule 6.6 shall be added—Constitutional matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs.
Name of Committee: Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee
Remit: To consider and report on matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and the matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity.
New remit: To consider and report on matters relating to the rural economy within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Tourism and matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity.
25 February 2020
Stage 2 - Changes to detail
MSPs can propose changes to the Bill. The changes are considered and then voted on by the committee.
Changes to the Bill
MSPs can propose changes to a Bill – these are called 'amendments'. The changes are considered then voted on by the lead committee.
The lists of proposed changes are known as a 'marshalled list'. There's a separate list for each week that the committee is looking at proposed changes.
The 'groupings' document groups amendments together based on their subject matter. It shows the order in which the amendments will be debated by the committee and in the Chamber. This is to avoid repetition in the debates.
How is it decided whether the changes go into the Bill?
When MSPs want to make a change to a Bill, they propose an 'amendment'. This sets out the changes they want to make to a specific part of the Bill.
The group of MSPs that is examining the Bill (lead committee) votes on whether it thinks each amendment should be accepted or not.
Depending on the number of amendments, this can be done during one or more meetings.