Guest Blog: Poverty Proofing© and hygiene poverty
We are pleased to host a guest blog from Chloe Maclellan, Poverty Proofing Coordinator at Children North East. Chloe shares what students in Poverty Proofing© audits have said about hygiene poverty and gives some suggestions for how schools and other organisations working with young people can combat hygiene poverty.
Throughout a Poverty Proofing© audit Children North East staff talk to children about when they feel ‘most different’. We look at fourteen different areas that highlight disadvantage, hygiene and access to sanitary products is a topic that occurs throughout these conversations.
There is no doubt that hygiene poverty is a very real issue in the UK at the moment and is only set to increase in prevalence with the rising cost of living. 9 million UK adults have reported experiencing hygiene poverty in the last six months* and 14% of adults in the UK expect to go without a hygiene product this year.^
In Poverty Proofing© audits students have spoken about the barriers they face to do with hygiene poverty. Many spoke of rationing products that incur a cost; such as deodorant, shower gel and toothpaste. This can be a huge issue for students who are attending school, as personal hygiene becomes poignant as children enter adolescence. “You can tell who has less [money], they smell, maybe because their washer is broken” – some families struggle to get clothes washed. In many schools, children have reported that they can tell who in their class is struggling for money. “You can tell who they are, they’ve greasy hair and they smell”. Some have commented that they have reduced showering to reduce costs to families.
When talking specifically about sanitary products, issues have been reported around access and privacy. “It’s embarrassing because anyone walking past can hear or see”. For some settings, products have been removed from bathrooms due to misuse, “we used to have them in the toilets, we don’t anymore – I think you can get them at the office still”. When talking about accessing products, some feel ‘too embarrassed to ask for the ‘red box’’. While some are unaware that there are resources available at all. It should also be noted that in conversations with staff, the majority are purchasing sanitary products, underwear and tights for students to use from their own funds.
Hygiene poverty is just one aspect that affects those who are living in poverty. 1 in 5 adults (20%) who have experienced hygiene poverty in the last six months have gone without hygiene products so that they could afford to buy food. It is important that we do not fragment the conversation about poverty and look at the wider problem as a whole. This is a small but important piece within a bigger picture of the barriers that disadvantaged families face daily.
Children North East’s Top tips for combating hygiene poverty
- Make products easily and discretely accessible. On counters in all bathrooms (male and female) and each toilet cubicle if possible. Where feasible ensure there is a range of products for different needs.
- Include the users in creating a system that will work for them to access products. In school this could be done with volunteer focus groups of students who understand the issues faced. To reduce the risk of these products being misused, address the availability and purpose of these products in form time/PSHE.
- Be vigilant for stigma or bullying relating to personal hygiene or the use of provided products. Consider visiting this topic during form time or school council meetings to gain feedback on the use of these products.
^All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2068 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 28th February – 1st March 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
*Population calculations carried out by In Kind Direct using data from YouGov and ONS population estimates for UK adults aged 18+
Top Tip 1:
Make products easily and discretely accessible. Ensure there is a range of products for different needs.
Top Tip 2:
Include users in creating a system that works for them to access products.
Top Tip 3:
Be vigilant for stigma or bullying related to personal hygiene or the use of provided products. Consult with users to gain feedback on the use of these products.
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