Agenda Item No. 5

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

CABINET:      21ST MAY, 2018

 

REFERENCE FROM EXTRAORDINARY LEARNING AND CULTURE SCRUTINY COMMITTEE: 23RD APRIL, 2018

 

 

“           THE PROVISION OF FREE SANITARY PRODUCTS IN SCHOOLS IN THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN (REQUEST FOR CONSIDERATION OF MATTER: COUNCILLOR MRS. J.M. NORMAN) –

 

The Chairman referred to the fact that the Request for Consideration of Matter had been received in November 2017, advised that it had taken time to collate the information required for the report and make arrangement for a speaker to attend the meeting, and she was pleased to receive the item.

 

The Chairman asked Councillor Mrs. Norman to present her report with Councillor Mrs. Norman commencing by informing the Committee that menstruation affected every woman and they had no choice in the matter.  She stated that period poverty did exist, even in the affluent Vale of Glamorgan.  To what extent she felt was unclear, because surveys could only provide so much information.  The Councillor felt that within many family groups, this topic was never discussed due to cultural or religious reasons.  To many young women and girls, admitting that they were even having their period was embarrassing enough, without having to confess that their family could not afford to buy the sanitary protection they needed.  This protection allowed them the right to dignity and well-being.  Councillor Mrs. Norman noted that this fact was being underpinned every day by the increased requests for sanitary products at food banks, even in the Vale of Glamorgan. 

 

Many secondary schools already had some facilities in place to help alleviate this problem, but Councillor Mrs. Norman noted that this was money spent out of their already very tight budgets.  Junior schools on the other hand had to rely heavily on the generosity of staff members or in some cases parents of some of the children, and that facilities available to the pupils for the discreet disposal of any sanitary products in these schools was virtually non-existent. 

 

The Member asked the Committee how much longer young women and girls would have to tolerate the indignity of what should be an automatic right to all.  She urged the Scrutiny Committee to follow the example of neighbouring counties, and to consider the request favourably. 

 

A Committee Member thanked Councillor Mrs. Norman for requesting this matter to be considered by the Scrutiny Committee, and was pleased to support this item and verified the truth and importance of the situation.  He was delighted to see that neighbouring Councils and Welsh Government were starting to provide support to tackle period poverty, and wished the Vale of Glamorgan Council to progress this matter as soon as possible. 

 

The Chairman thanked Councillor Mrs. Norman for her Request for Consideration of Matter and presented the Committee with the report that had been prepared by officers to provide information on current procedures in respect of provision of sanitary products in schools in the Vale of Glamorgan. 

 

The Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officer in presenting the report referred to the fact that the provision of free sanitary products in schools has recently been highlighted in the press. The local Council of Rhondda Cynon Taff (RCT) had established a working group to consider the availability of hygiene products in RCT schools with recommendations being reported to their Council and subsequently forwarded to their Cabinet for consideration.  A copy of the RCT report was provided in a link in the report to the Committee.  Welsh Government had also recently announced they would provide £1m to be used to tackle period poverty in communities and schools across Wales.  The announcement advised that Local Authorities would receive £440,000 over the next two years to tackle period poverty in their communities where levels of deprivation were highest and £700,000 of capital funding to improve facilities and equipment in schools.  The Vale of Glamorgan was notified on 23rd March, 2018 that it would receive a capital funding allocation of £31,512 for the 2017/18 financial year.  To complement the capital funding, revenue grant funding of £8,666 for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 financial years was to be made available.  The Learning and Skills Directorate would work closely with schools to establish how this funding could be best utilised.   The neighbouring Authority of Bridgend County Borough Council had worked with a charitable organisation called Wings Cymru which was an organisation raising funds and collecting donations of menstrual products.  Ms. Ceri Reeves, a representative from the organisation, had agreed to attend the Scrutiny Committee meeting to provide an overview of the work of the organisation and to advise of a pilot project initiative that had been established in the Maesteg area of the Authority involving three schools. 

 

The Democratic Services Officer had contacted schools in the Vale of Glamorgan in relation to the current practices and arrangements that were in place for the provision of sanitary products.  A breakdown of the information received was shown in the report at paragraph 10.  The report stated that from the responses received to date, there were similar procedures in place in all schools with the majority of schools supplying products free of charge purchased out of the school budget.  In the comprehensive schools, some of the schools had free supplies from a sanitary produce supplier which usually lasted the year.  If not, then purchases were made from the school budget, while some schools had no such arrangements and purchased the products from the school budget directly.  The comprehensive schools that had responded had advised that the arrangements worked well.  A possible way forward for the Scrutiny Committee was provided in paragraph 14 of the report, which suggested that a small working group be established consisting of Members of the Committee, with the terms of reference to include: 

  • To investigate further the current approach to promoting and providing and disposing of sanitary products in primary and secondary schools throughout the Vale of Glamorgan;
  • To gather evidence from students, staff and health professionals on the current provision;
  • To identify areas of good practice with the intention of providing education for all pupils and an understanding of the provision. 

The Director of Learning and Skills advised the Committee that the revenue grant funding of £8,666 was not specifically targeted at schools and the Corporate Management Team had not yet considered how this funding could be distributed.  The Director stated that she had been in discussions with her counterparts in neighbouring Authorities and they had targeted this revenue funding at schools, for example, Bridgend County Borough Council had brought together school representatives to decide how the funding could be best used.  In her opinion, the Director felt it best to directly involve school pupils in the decision process.  She also noted that this revenue funding was for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 financial years, so there was a sustainability issue for future funding. 

 

Following the presentation of the report, the Chairman subsequently welcomed and asked Ms. Reeves, the representative from the charitable organisation Wings Cymru, to address the Committee.

 

Ms. Reeves advised the Committee that Wings Cymru had started in June 2017.  The organisation had commenced by working with one comprehensive school and two primary schools to provide them with three months of sanitary products.  The approach taken by Wings Cymru was that products were provided to an approachable Learning Support Assistant at the school, who provided these products with no restrictions.  Ms. Reeves stated that this support was not about providing emergency provision, but about providing girls with no limits to their education and welfare.  She noted that the outcome of this service could be measured by the schools’ with attendance figures.  Collection points had been sought across the entire county, with schools found to be the most convenient distribution site.  Any additional donations above that required by schools were gratefully received by food banks.  Wings Cymru had prepared packs for schools; with badges for helpers and pupils, posters, stickers for toilet doors, and notes for assemblies to publicise the work of the charity.  Ms. Reeves stated that this approach was working well.  Positive meetings with pupils were also held in schools where the issue was discussed and suggestions by pupils progressed.  For example, some schools had adopted an approach by which certain toilets were designated “Big Girl” toilets and sanitary product disposal bins provided in these.

 

As a point of information, Ms. Reeves referred to the possibility of providing reusable products which were bought on the request of pupils, however the organisation did ask that research should be carried out by the individual in the first instance as there were additional hidden costs associated with these items.  Finally, Ms. Reeves noted that the organisation could provide a variety of products, which was seen as positive, as this allowed girls to have choice in the matter and not to rely on the cheapest brand. 

 

The Committee thanked Ms. Reeves for her presentation and asked her if Bridgend County Borough Council had figures for school absences due to period poverty.  In response, Ms. Reeves stated that this information was still to be collected.  However, in school governor discussions it was noted that pupils who received free school meals had worse recorded school attendance and it was felt that period poverty was having a similar impact.

 

Councillor Mrs. M.R. Wilkinson, not a Member of the Committee but with permission to speak, stated that she was disappointed it had taken so long for this matter to come to the Committee.  She felt that this was a poverty issue that was hidden, was quiet and affected many people; even girls as young as 8 years old.  The Councillor also stated that when working in a food bank she had seen with her own eyes the distress caused by period poverty.  The Councillor urged the Committee to consider proposing that support is put in place as soon as possible, and asked the Committee not to wait for the funding from Welsh Government to start the process.  She had first-hand experience that food banks had been requesting sanitary products and this was even after hundreds of pounds of stock had been donated.  Finally, she requested that the Scrutiny Committee speak directly to pupils on this matter as many were embarrassed and found it a difficult subject to bring up with teachers. 

 

Councillor Mrs. Drake, not a Member of the Committee but with permission to speak, also stated that she fully supported the proposal to provide support to children in schools.  She considered that it was not appropriate to have to pay VAT on sanitary products as they were not luxury items, but products for basic hygiene.  The Councillor concluded by stating that period poverty existed in the Vale of Glamorgan.

 

A Member of the Committee stated that he agreed wholeheartedly with the comments made by his fellow Councillors and in relation to the capital and revenue funding provided, the Member stated that in his experience disposal contracts for sanitary products were usually the greater expense as compared to the cost of the actual product.  The Member noted that since Bridgend was a similar size to the Vale of Glamorgan, would Ms. Reeves know how many sanitary disposal bins were required, and the approximate cost for emptying them.  In response, Ms. Reeves stated that she presumed schools already had a contract for sanitary waste for staff, so the additional cost to add disposal bins for pupils should not be great.  Further, such contracts should already be in place for the pupils of secondary schools.  As far as other costs were concerned, Ms. Reeves noted that £100 worth of sanitary products had been donated to secondary schools in Bridgend County Borough Council, and £30 of products donated to primary schools, and after three months Wings Cymru had not had to supply additional stock.  Finally, Ms. Reeves commented that modern schools were starting to build unisex toilets which could make the allocation of disposal bins difficult. 

 

A Co-opted Member of the Committee told of her experience where she had discussed the issue with friends of her daughter, who confirmed that many were suffering in silence, and in fact stated she had paid for some school girls’ sanitary products as they could not afford them. 

 

A Committee Member raised concern that girls could be missing out on their education due to period poverty and could be embarrassed to raise the issue.  The Member also confirmed that local food banks were desperately in need of sanitary products and another Committee Member stated that the cost to the Council to provide these services was not significant compared to other expenditure and felt it important that if a working group was established, it should consider most the effective means of distribution of sanitary products with the suggestion that this group be called a “Delivery Working Group”. 

 

The Chairman thanked Members for their input on this matter and advised that as one of four sisters, the provision of sanitary products could be very expensive for some families.  The Chairman was glad that the Scrutiny Committee wholeheartedly appeared to be committed to providing this support to girls and women in the Vale of Glamorgan. Based on the discussions, she considered that the Scrutiny Committee should seek more information to help deliver a robust system of support.  In conclusion, the Chairman considered that there should be no delay in the support given to pupils.

 

The Director of Learning and Skills advised the Committee that no exact timescale for the grant from Welsh Government had been given, however she could not see an issue in procuring sanitary products before this funding was received. 

 

It was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T a small working group (namely a delivery group) be established consisting of Members of the Committee with the terms of reference to include: 

  • To investigate further the current approach to promoting and providing and disposing of sanitary products in primary and secondary schools throughout the Vale of Glamorgan;
  • To gather evidence from students, staff and health professionals on the current provision;
  • To identify areas of good practice with the intention of providing education for all pupils and an understanding of the provision. 

(2)       T H A T Committee Members interested in sitting on the working group referred to in recommendation 1, above, contact the Democratic Services Officer to make necessary arrangements for the working group to convene.

 

(3)       T H A T the Scrutiny Committee recommends to Cabinet that in the interim, each secondary school in the Vale of Glamorgan be given £100 worth of sanitary products, and each primary school be given £30 worth of sanitary products, while the Scrutiny Committee working group examines this matter in full detail, including the means of distributing remaining and future funding from Welsh Government.

 

(4)       T H A T the report of the working group referred to in recommendation 1, above, be referred to the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee and to Cabinet for consideration.

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1)       To implement a working group to investigate this matter in full.

 

(2)       To confirm the membership of the working group.

 

(3)       To provide immediate support to female pupils in all schools in the Vale of Glamorgan.

 

(4)       To consider the findings of the working group.”

 

 

 

Attached as Appendix - Report to Extraordinary Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee: 23rd April, 2018