Period poverty division

Midlothian House, the main office for Midlothian Council, Buccleuch Street, Dalkeith
Midlothian House, the main office for Midlothian Council, Buccleuch Street, Dalkeith

Midlothian Council has approved plans to provide free sanitary products in schools but only if the Scottish Government funds the scheme.

This was decided following a fiery debate on the subject at last week’s full council meeting, with a report from officers noting an additional recurring revenue cost of £7,500 per annum for the provision of sanitary provision across the county’s six high schools, the relevant primary schools and Saltersgate School to provide free access to sanitary products for pupils. Presently school offices or guidance teachers are able to supply free sanitary products, if requested by pupils.

Labour councillor John Hackett moved an amendment that the costs be met by the Scottish Government.

Cllr Kelly Parry (SNP) was “horrified” by Cllr Hacket’s “appalling” suggestion that the council would not pay such a “minimal cost in terms of the benefits” it would bring.

Cllr Parry also labelled the council’s consultation response on the subject a “disgrace” adding she wanted to speak to the person who put it together for even suggesting a card-based system to enable girls to access free sanitary products. Responding to the criticism Cllr Hacket said: “As little as the money is, the difference is about putting the resources where they are most required.

“In my mind it’s about tackling poverty where it’s most needed.

“If it’s a health issue, if there is a Scottish government national initiative, I think it is incumbent on us to support this and use the resources they use to tackle it. Women’s Aid were more than happy to accept this card scheme.

“There is a provision already, we have the costings and the opportunity to work with the Scottish Government to tackle this issue.”

Cllr Hacket then called for a cross party group to look at the council consultation.

SNP councillor Catherine Johnstone was angry that the provision was described as free, adding: “You don’t say I’m going to the free toilet to use the free toilet roll and free hot water and free soap, and it should be the same for period products. Toilet products, regardless of who uses them are public health products.”

She hopes this scheme is just the start with free sanitary products becoming “universal”. However she took exception to male councillors speaking on the subject, adding: “It made me quite upset that it’s men speaking about such a personal thing in a woman’s life. I’m just disappointed that the women in the council have not spoken up more about that.”

Cllr Margot Russell (Lab) hit back: “Men are fathers and husbands who will be involved in some way shape or form in this experience that women have, so it’s just as appropriate for men to have an understanding of this particular problem.”

Cllr Peter Smail (Con) took offence to Cllr Johnstone’s “sexist” comments.