Climbdown sees Scottish Government back Labour's 'period poverty bill'

A major u-turn has seen the Scottish Government agree to back a Labour MSP's bill which seeks to end "period poverty".

Monica Lennon's period products bill is now being supported by the Scottish Government.
Monica Lennon's period products bill is now being supported by the Scottish Government.

After months of refusing to support Monica Lennon's member's bill, communities minister Aileen Campbell has today said she will give her backing to the "general principles" of the legislation.

However, she said she will still look to allay "concerns" about how to pay for the provision of universal sanitary products.

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Free period products law plan criticised over costs

The bill would put a statutory duty on councils and education institutions to supply free sanitary products and while Ms Lennon said it could cost £9.7 million a year, the Scottish Government claims it could be £24 million annually.

But last week the new Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw threw his weight behind the bill, which would have seen the government would lose the Stage 1 debate vote in Holyrood next week if it continued to oppose the legislation. The Scotsman also understands that Ms Lennon was also due to meet Aileen Campbell tomorrow to discuss her concerns.

As a result, today Ms Campbell said that the government would take immediate action "to embed existing provisions in schools in law" and confirmed "support for the general principles" of the bill "in the debate next week."

She added: "We have significant and very real concerns about the practicality and deliverability of the bill in its current form, which were reflected in the Local Government Committee’s Stage 1 report.

"As a signal of our good faith and in recognition of the broad consensus about general policy objectives, we will support the bill at this stage. We will then seek to work with others in a genuine effort to reach agreement on amendments that will allay our concerns and enable us to lodge a robust financial resolution.

"I hope other parties will be prepared to enter into that work in the same constructive spirit that we will."

Monica Lennon said the decision was "a victory" for all the campaigners who backed the legislation.

“I am very thankful to the Cabinet Secretary for listening and responding to the overwhelming public support for the bill," she said. "Credit must also go to the Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Greens and Scottish Liberal Democrats who had already committed to back the bill next week.

“Scotland has already taken important steps towards improving access to period products and tackling stigma. Legislation will guarantee rights, ensure that current initiatives continue in future on a universal basis, and will help us achieve period dignity for all.

The announcement was welcomed online by campaign group On The Ball, which seeks to ensure football grounds offer free period products in their stadia, which said on Twitter: "We are absolutely delighted that @scotgov have changed their minds and are now backing the Period Products (Free Provision) Bill at Stage One next Tuesday! Well done to @MonicaLennon7 and her team as well as all supporters of the Bill who have kept the pressure on."

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP also said it was a "win for common sense and fairness".

He added: “People inside and outside the SNP told them that their opposition to the bill that would tackle period poverty was unjustifiable and I’m glad they’ve seen sense and caved. A lack of period products shouldn’t be getting in the way of women’s lives or education.

“The ridiculous scare stories about cross-border tampon raids and period profiteering didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Neither did Gillian Martin’s ill-informed claims that the need for free period products was no longer as pressing as before.

“This is a win for common sense and fairness. I applaud Monica Lennon for her tireless campaigning on this issue.”

Ms Campbell said regulations will also be brought forward to place a duty on local authorities to provide products in schools from the next academic year and the Scottish Government will work with clinicians to explore how people with medical issues such as endometriosis are able to access period products by prescription.

The government will also support the charity Hey Girls to develop a Locator App that helps people access free products, promote wider period dignity through a certification scheme for the private sector, campaign to remove the stigma surrounding periods through its #TalkPeriods campaign and review wider community access to ensure period products reach those who need them most.