(Bloomberg) -- The cost of living crisis is forcing people to turn to charities for sanitary products, the latest sign of how households are being squeezed by the economic slowdown.
With inflation at levels last seen in the 1980s, charity Bloody Good Period distributed 150% more packs of period products in May and June than a year earlier. Sales of some of supermarket giant Tesco Plc’s own-brand sanitary products have soared more than 100% since the summer of 2021 as consumers choose cheaper products to save money.
The UK is facing the longest economic slump since the financial crisis as fuel and heating costs soar because of the war in Ukraine. Many Britons will be sucked into poverty by the slowdown, with the number of households with no savings set to double to 5.3 million by 2024.
Inflation is expected to peak at 13.3% in October when energy price caps rise. Some people will have to choose then between “putting food on the table, keeping the heating on, or a pack of pads,” said Terri Harris, education manager at Bloody Good Period.
With energy prices expected to soar this winter, British households are looking at annual bills of more than £4,000 based on current expectations. That’s almost 14% of a British household’s disposable income before government support measures are taken into account.
“If we don’t bring inflation back” to the 2% target then “it’s going to get worse for the least well off,” BOE Governor Andrew Bailey said last week after the bank announced its largest rise in interest rates in 27 years. “I have huge sympathy for those who are struggling.”
To prevent people having to miss out on education because of the cost of sanitary products, the UK introduced a free period product program for schools and colleges in 2020. The government “is currently in the process of extending the program to run until at least 2024,” according to a spokesperson for the Department of Education. It also removed a 5% sales tax in 2021.
The impact from dropping the levy has been eroded by the “disproportionate impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis on women,” said Dr Annalise Weckesser, who researches menstrual health at Birmingham City University.
Higher wholesale prices mean Bloody Good Period is getting fewer sanitary products for its money. The charity is currently paying about £12.50 ($15) for 14 packs of maxi pads, down from 16 packs a year ago. It distributed almost 12,000 period packs in May alone.
A pivot toward renewable period products -- considered a long-term solution to tackling period poverty -- is also threatened by the cost of living crisis, said Dr Lara Owen, a founder of the Menstruation Research Network.
Menstrual cups can last as long as 10 years but they cost about £20. As a result, she said, many of the UK’s poorest households are unable to afford the upfront cost.
“We already know seven million low-income families had to sacrifice food, heating, even showers, this year because they couldn’t afford them,” Rebecca McDonald, chief economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said by email.
“Many also took on credit to pay their bills and are falling behind on their payments. This will be much harder to pay off with higher interest rates, putting more families in financial peril.”
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