13 July 2017

It’d be madness for the Government to hand out tampons


I should possibly employ some delicacy on this subject – given my status as a cis-hetero male patriachalist – but people seem to have lost the plot over the period poverty business. To be honest, I find it odd that there should be such a massive financial problem caused by something which is remarkably cheap. But the proposed solution, the free handout of goods, is even more absurd. Surely, if we accept that there is a serious problem, the answer is much simpler: the handing out of a little extra money.

The problem is a distressing one: that poor women, not least the homeless, cannot afford menstrual products, tampons, pads and so forth. If this is indeed the case, then can we honestly call ourself a civilised society? The production and availability of such things should be one of the undoubted gains that capitalism hath wrought.

So let’s return to the initial problem. Is it true that tampons are unaffordable? A quick look around Amazon or Morrison’s, to take two examples, tells us that own brands are of the order of 5p each, £1 for a box of 20 tampons. It is undoubtedly true that many will prefer branded to own-brand, which is why there are so many on the shelves. But even they seem to be little more than twice that price. I could also make the point here about the welfare state and our duty to the less well-off: we promise adequate housing, not a mansion; bus fare not a limo ride.

We could also consider the calculation over time, courtesy of the Huffington Post:

“On average, a woman has her period from three to seven days and the average woman menstruates from age 13 until age 51. That means the average woman endures some 456 total periods over 38 years.”

Let’s not dwell on the fact they’ve failed to correct for lunar months instead of solar. They also give us this:

You’re instructed to change your tampon every 4 to 8 hours, so we’ll use 6 hours as an average. 1 tampon every 6 hours = 4 tampons per day x 5 days of a period = 20 tampons per cycle.

So we seem to have a problem which is a £1 a month one. OK, £2 a month perhaps. Or £500 a lifetime, perhaps if we stretch it, £1,000.

If this is a problem, then of course we should solve it. But what’s really at issue here is the absurdity of the solution being rolled out:

Dave Simmers, the chief executive of CFINE, said: “Over a woman’s lifetime, sanitary products cost on average of more than £5,000, a significant sum for those on low income. Many cannot afford them and may use inappropriate methods or miss school.”

The solution, apparently, is:

Scotland could become the first country in the world to provide free sanitary products to low-income women if a pilot project proves successful.

Ministers have announced that free sanitary products will be given to those in need in Aberdeen as part of a trial.

At least 1,000 women and girls from low-income homes will benefit from the Scottish government scheme, which is backed by funding of £42,500.

At which point we begin to see the absurdity of government solutions to so many things. 1,000 women for 6 months should be a £6,000 problem. OK, possibly, a £12,000 one. Government will be spending £42,000 to solve it. This is not the way to make us all richer. The cost of solving a problem should not be greater than the benefit achieved. The benefit here is that those women will have what £6,000, or £12,000, could have bought them.

Given my lack of experience in this area, I did actually check this all with a female doctor who pointed out that it’s all a little more complicated than just tampons. Flows vary, some prefer pads, and so on. The very fact that there are so many different designs and types on the market is all the evidence we need that different women prefer different methods of dealing with menses.

Which, of course, is why it is such rampant idiocy for government to try to distribute the things themselves. We already have great big barns in every city and town in the country packed with all the variations of these products. They’re called shops. All women need is the coin of the realm to browse said barns and purchase the variant they desire. Thus we shouldn’t be handing out menstrual products (emergency supplies in a school cupboard or homeless shelters or even food bank being a different matter): we should be handing out money.

Yes, obviously, it’s my patriarchalist cis-hetero maleness which means that I’m deeply distrustful of the initial case that there’s a problem here – at least among those of low income rather than those in genuine destitution.

But imagine – difficult though it may be for both of us – that I’m wrong here. It’s still true that the solution is a handout to women to buy what they desire on the market, not anything so flabbergastingly stupid as a Government Tampon Distribution System.

Tim Worstall is senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute