Before the General Election - which now seems such a long time ago, the issue of period poverty was gaining momentum. More people knew what it was and the government was starting to sit up and take notice. But a lot can change and with the new political landscape, the focus on Brexit and now the summer break the issue seems to have slipped from the agenda once again.
It's easy to see why that has happened - schools have broken up for the summer holidays and girls will be trying to cope on their own. The simple truth is period poverty is a hidden problem; if it wasn't for teachers and those volunteering at food banks reporting that this was a real issue, we probably would still be oblivious to it. Tragically we simply don't know how many young girls it affects because embarrassment stops them from seeking help. Anecdotal evidence tells us that young girls who can't afford sanitary products often end up using tissues, old socks and other totally inappropriate items. Shockingly this is happening up and down the UK - a prosperous and compassionate country.
In the last Parliament my colleagues and I raised the problem repeatedly with Ministers at all levels, tabled a motion that gained cross-party support and spoke about the issue at every opportunity possible to break the taboo. Finally, it seemed we were getting somewhere; in response to a question from the then-Liberal Democrat MP in March, the Education Secretary Justine Greening said she would look at the issue carefully.
But five months on from the Conservative government promising to address this issue, we've heard nothing. This week I wrote to Justine Greening asking for an update at very least. It seems that this Government thinks it can wash its hands of the problem and leave businesses like Bodyform and Boots, along with charities such as Freedom4Girls and In-Kind Direct, to pick up the pieces. Bodyform for example has promised to donate 200,000 packs of sanitary products by 2020, whilst Boots have placed donation boxes in their stores for customers to donate sanitary products to be distributed to girls in need.
We can't get away from the fact that often these young girls and their families don't have the money to purchase these vital hygiene products, thanks to cruel Conservative austerity measures that hit the poorest hardest. It is a scathing indictment of this government that girls in our country are suffering like this. Conservative ministers shouldn't be allowed to just turn a blind eye and hope the issue goes away.
I will continue to campaign on this issue when Parliament returns, but there is no excuse for the government to not act now. We already know that girls are missing classes during their periods and when schools return in September the problem will re-surface. Liberal Democrats want to see free sanitary products available in every school nurses' office for all girls who need them. This isn't a huge ask, but as with everything in politics it's about priorities - and priorities tell you a lot about political parties. So let's see what this Conservative government does. The ball is now in their court.
Lorely Burt is the Liberal Democrat Equalities SpokespersonSuggest a correction