27/07/2017 07:33 BST | Updated 27/07/2017 08:17 BST

Hygiene Poverty: The ‘Hidden’ And Growing Problem That’s Crushing People’s Self-Esteem

'Long before people go to a food bank, they stop buying hygiene products.'

George Bowden/HuffPost UK
Gert, pictured, is one of thousands affected by a worsening so-called hygiene poverty

A ‘hidden’ poverty is propelling thousands of people into a crisis of confidence across Britain, a leading charity has warned.

So-called ‘hygiene poverty’, where people can’t afford basic personal toiletries, is causing perilously low self-esteem and risks an epidemic of mental health issues, In Kind Direct said.

New research for the organisation found local charities it supplies are increasingly desperate for big donations of products like soap and deodorant.

George Bowden/HuffPost UK
Packs of toiletries supplied by In Kind Direct line the walls of a charity's office in London

Some 82 percent of charities reported an increased demand for toiletries and cleaning products, while a new survey of 1,000 Brits found 37 percent of people went without them due to lack of funds.

Last year the charity distributed a record £20.2m of hygiene products, a rise of 67 percent on 2015, when £12.1m of products were distributed.

The charity’s Robin Boles told HuffPost UK: “This is a hidden poverty. Long before people go to a food bank, they stop buying hygiene products.

“This is affecting people who can’t clean their clothes too - they can’t go to a job interview, they can’t do everyday things.”

And here three people reveal to HuffPost the crucial difference donations of shower gels, toothpaste, shaving kits and make-up have had on their lives.


George Bowden/HuffPost UK
Gert is homeless despite working full-time. Showering at a respite centre for rough sleepers is part of his weekday routine

″I wasn’t expecting the knock on the door, when I opened it I was told I had to leave my house.

″I’d been given a £50 a month pay rise at work as a care assistant and this meant I earned too much for the housing benefit. I did everything right. I told them about it.

″Then the letters came, Gov.UK, that’s what it said, Gov.UK has taken away my house.

″That was it, I thought I must have a plan. It won’t happen again. So I’ve been sleeping rough for over a year now.

“I remember coming here [to the Barons Court Project], friends told me about it, I remember coming through the door and having a shower first thing. I had a shave, that was a big thing.

Without the showers, who knows? I wouldn't have a job

″With their help, at Christmas I got a job at Marks and Spencer and now I’m permanent, full-time, 37 and a half hours a week. It provides a uniform which I can wash here.

″But I couldn’t raise the money for a deposit on a room straight away. With Gov. UK, they won’t give you anything unless you’re ill, drinking or addicted.

″So I’m on the streets. My routine is I start work at 5am until 1pm, then come to the project for a shower, to charge my mobile, to clean up.

″Then I leave and try to get to sleep with my bike, I sleep for about three hours. Always listening. I use the same spot so I know the sounds. Then I start work again.

″Without the showers, who knows? I wouldn’t have a job.

“I’m now looking for a room somewhere, I might have enough to pay the deposit soon. I’ve just had a pay rise. Maybe an en suite room.

“This is all part of my plan. Gov.UK won’t help me. I’ll help myself.”

Read more about the Barons Court Project here.


Harald Hillemanns / EyeEm via Getty Images
Lorissa* says she has found renewed confidence after receiving expensive make-up that works with her sensitive skin (file photo)

″I have four young children. Feeding them is the priority. I don’t have lots of money for nice things for me. My income is barely enough.

″I have really sensitive skin so I can’t just wear any make-up. Without it people would ask me if I was feeling OK. ‘You look ill,’ they would say to me.

″About three years ago I started going to the Africa Advocacy Foundation and I was put on a hardship programme.

″They managed to find me some Max Factor make-up and wow. It made me feel so much more confident.

They managed to find me some Max Factor make-up and wow. It made me feel so much more confident

“I cannot use any other soap or bath cream except certain products which are very expensive in the shops

“Something so simple, yet for me it is just not something I could afford.

″But now I have it, it’s made such a difference.”

Read more about the Africa Advocacy Foundation here.


Brooke Fasani via Getty Images
Ruksana is mum to two boys and says she has very little money for quality hygiene products (file photo)

“I’m a mum to two boisterous boys and I have had very little money.

“I’m always opting for cheaper alternatives, budgeting has become a way of life.

“Nice products make me want to look after myself, so I really appreciate them. This means I can buy things I wouldn’t normally be able to afford, so I can economise and mix buying baby food jars with homemade food.

“The household bills are there every month and we stick to a budget, but there is little left.

“At times, I feel that as women we are heavily judged on our appearance and with having very little to spend on looking good this has affected my confidence significantly in terms of feeling good.

Having very little to spend on looking good this has affected my confidence significantly

“I started going to Crest, which has helped me develop some of the skills I needed to look for work.

″They have been an immense source of support in giving me some of the nice toiletries.

“This has helped increase my confidence and just generally helping me to feel good about myself.”

Read more about Crest here.

In Kind Direct specialises in taking large assignments of unwanted branded cosmetics and personal hygiene products destined for landfill and re-distributing them to communities.

It partners with big manufacturers like Proctor and Gamble and local charities like those featured. Read more about the charity on its website here.

Gert, Lorissa* and Ruksana’s comments have been edited for clarity and length. *Lorissa is a pseudonym.

[READ MORE: ’How Product Giving Can Help Tackle Hygiene Poverty In The UK’]