Free sanitary products scheme may need more cash, admits DfE

The Department for Education doesn’t have enough money to pay for free sanitary products for every eligible pupil in the country, despite a pledge to “fully fund” the initiative.

Tender documents published by the Department for Education (DfE) show the government is prepared to spend between £10 and £20 million on the scheme from this September until the end of next year. The DfE will then decide whether to extend the contract by 12 or 18 months.

Ministers have said they would fully fund a pledge to provide free sanitary products to all primary and secondary schools and post-16 institutions. The move was announced by the chancellor Philip Hammond in his spring statement.

But the department has admitted it will have to go back to the Treasury for extra funding if more than the “anticipated level” of 1.7 million pupils take up the offer of free products.

According to government records, there are more than 1.6 million girls in English secondary schools alone, with 1.1 million girls attending further education colleges and the small number who start their periods at primary school also eligible.

Schools Week understands the 1.7 million is based on figures provided to the DfE by the Office for National Statistics. But when asked for the specific figures, the DfE did not respond.

A Treasury spokesperson said the government stood by its pledge to fully fund the scheme, but said any additional funding would be a matter for the next spending review.

Amika George, a campaigner from the group FreePeriods, said it was “absolutely integral that the government’s pledge addresses the needs of all children who require access to menstrual products while in education.

“FreePeriods will continue to challenge and question the government’s period poverty taskforce so that that every child can go to school without worrying about how they will manage their period.”

According to the tender documents, the DfE is looking for a “single national supplier” to source an “appropriate range of period products”, to design and implement “user interfaces and support services” and to plan and execute a national delivery service.

“The funding for this opportunity is contingent on user need, alongside the delivery and distribution methods used by any successful bidder.”

Despite an anticipated delay to the start of the scheme, the contract is due to begin this September and end in December 2020.

The department has also confirmed that the successful bidder “will be required to offer environmentally friendly sanitary pads as a minimum, and are encouraged to provide further environmentally friendly options (such as menstrual cups or eco-friendly tampons)”.