Fighting for period dignity in DWP

Using toilet paper, socks, and other kinds of fabric, or tampons for far longer than recommended, women are risking serious health issues, not least the extremely dangerous toxic shock syndrome. Risking life and hospitalisation to prevent blood leaking on their clothing, to conform to a societal norm in a society that refuses to provide them much needed support.

It’s not just about women and girls

Transgender males too have a real struggle with period poverty, some saying that during their period they already feel stripped of their identity. Walking into a shop to buy sanitary products is hard enough, but worse still is having your period while in work, with no money to purchase protection.
For all that menstruate, the fear of ‘flooding’ and ‘leaking’ in public, the thought of becoming the object of ridicule, is enough to keep them at home, hidden away from life. Citizens of the UK, forced to miss work or school, denied the opportunity to take part in daily life.

PCS policy

In 2018 PCS, Annual Delegate Conference passed motion A296, putting the battle for period dignity firmly on the PCS agenda.  

The NEC are pressing Cabinet Office to provide free sanitary protection for all civil service workers. There has been some push back from the civil service employee policy (CSEP) team, having recently advised the trade unions that the matter is one for departments and they have no remit to pursue, but it is Cabinet Office that holds the purse strings therefore PCS has ensured that negotiations will be reopened across departments.

May 2019 saw a further motion to DWP conference instructing the GEC to approach the employer to request funding for free sanitary products for staff, customers and visitors. The motion also called for the GEC to support campaigns for the abolition of the ‘tampon tax’, the tax levied on “luxury, non-essential items”. Yes, you read that right, luxury, non-essential items!

The 5% ‘tampon tax’ is the lowest possible rate under EU tax regulations; government has already pressed for change to allow for a 0% rate but due to the triggering of Article 50, this amendment is on hold, caught up in ‘deal or no deal’ Brexit. There has also been some effort made to align with Scottish Government’s more progressive legislation, the 2019 spring statement allowing for free sanitary products in secondary schools and colleges in England; further campaigning has now resulted in the same for primary schools.

Still no support for those suffering period poverty in the workplace though, so as national union negotiate with Cabinet Office, the GEC has petitioned DWP to bring dignity to women at work by providing free sanitary protection in our offices.

Negotiators presented the case, advising on the benefits of providing free sanitary products for those that at present are taking time off work, or leaving early, due to lack of provision. It was further stated that the employer will also benefit due to reduced absenteeism, for what PCS believe is not a very costly exercise.

DWP having questioned that period poverty affects our staff, affordability not being a real problem were taken to the DWP’s own evidence collated within the wellness survey which showed approximately 70% of those surveyed are struggling financially. PCS further argued that the DWP staffing demographic would tell us those suffering financial anxiety are most likely menstruating young and peri-menopausal women, and trans men.  

DWP was presented with some stark facts, the starting point being our members suffering under ten years of pay restraint and the average cost per year of sanitary provision sitting at £500.  PCS members will suffer further with dependents of menstruating age at home, working zero hour contracts or claiming a not very beneficial benefit, parents are picking up the tab – towels, tampons, pain relief; the figures can reach extortionate levels.  

DWP’s response – ‘we are not responsible for people’s children, just the staff’, PCS counters, ‘your staff are going without to provide for their children.’

The GEC demands more

There has been some local management support for charity collections and indeed, DWP has said it cannot cover the cost of sanitary products, but will support campaigns such as the Red Box – but the GEC demands more.

It is not for those struggling on low pay to dig deep into their pockets to provide sanitary products for colleagues. We have seen the period dignity campaign winning with football clubs and private companies, but the public sector department that cries ‘I can be me’, that espouses equality, mental health and wellbeing support, refuses to provide for its workers.

Your GEC will not accept the lip service paid to wellbeing, inclusion, safety and health in DWP, we demand the employer to approach Cabinet Office to provide the money for free on site sanitary protection in our workplaces and we expect Cabinet Office to make that provision. We will continue to work to that end – for period dignity for all.


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