Baseline survey results exploring access to free period products: a summary
Local authorities have been providing access to free period products within primary and secondary schools since August 2018, and in public buildings since January 2019.
The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act received Royal Assent on 12 January 2021. From 15 August 2022, it placed a duty on local authorities and education providers to provide access to free period products for all those who might need them, without a means-tested approach.
We conducted a baseline survey to understand the attitudes, knowledge and experiences of periods and free period products prior to the Act coming into force.
Most respondents stated that they normally use disposable products.
The most commonly reported period product was single use sanitary towels or liners (81%).
Most respondents were able to use their preferred period product.
For two-thirds of respondents there was some degree of worry or concern about having their periods. These concerns were often due to their health or the physical symptom of periods.
Respondents were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with period and period product related concerns. The majority of respondents:
- they had adequate information concerning their periods
- they felt comfortable talking to others about their period
- they were embarrassed when buying period products
- they were afraid of others teasing them when on their period
Two key groups were more likely to have concerns or worries regarding their periods or using period products:
- Young people (compared to adults)
- Respondents living in lower income households (compared to those living in higher income households)
Respondents who struggled to afford period products over the past 12 months to enable them to continue with their day-to-day activities were more likely to be:
- Living in a lower income household
- Unaware of access to free period products
- Living in rural areas
The majority of adults spend up to £10 per month on period products (82%).
The majority (90%) are able to afford enough period products to continue with their day-to-day activities. For those who sometimes struggle (10%), they most commonly:
- use the same type of products, but cheaper brands
- use different types of period product
- wear products for longer than normal
- use other products such as toilet roll
Awareness of access to free period products
Around three quarters (76%) were aware that they could access free period products in Scotland. But, awareness was lower amongst those who struggled to afford period products (compared to those who could afford products)
The most impactful channels for raising awareness are as follows:
- Social media
- Word of mouth
The preferred methods for obtaining free products were:
- sent to the respondent's home
- at work
- at school, college or university
- at a health centre
Experiences of obtaining free period products thus far
Just under half of respondents had accessed free period products.
The majority had done so due to not having enough period products with them or due to a period starting unexpectedly.
One in five respondents stated they had accessed free period products due to challenges with the cost of living.
Accessing free period products was largely seen to be convenient with buildings easy to access, and products easy to obtain.
The majority of respondents who had accessed free period products were able to access enough to meet their needs and were able to access free provision in a non-judgemental way.
For many respondents, access to free period products had:
- made them more able to continue with day-to-day activities
- made them less worried about their periods
- a positive impact on their household finances
Conclusions on what next for access to free period products
Low-income households and respondents who struggled to afford period products were key groups where the cost of living and the affordability of period products were seen to be a concern.
Highlighting the need for this policy area to support equality and dignity for all those who require period products in Scotland
While there generally appears to be a positive culture surrounding menstruation, low-income households and young people (those aged 12-15 years) were key groups likely to have concerns around their periods or period products
This suggests the need for cultural change to normalise menstruation and ensure all those who require period products feel informed and free from stigma.
Awareness of free period products
Awareness was low amongst those who were most likely to need free period products most (low-income households and those who struggle to afford period products)
This suggests steps could be taken to promote awareness and visibility amongst key groups
Positive impact of access to free period products
Access to free period products were seen to contribute positively to wellbeing and individual household finances
Emphasising the need for this policy in terms of supporting equality and reducing the cost of living for households with menstruating people.
The data presented in this report is from a baseline survey undertaken in 2022. We intend to replicate this survey in 2025 in order to allow direct comparisons to be made between the two time periods. This will allow us to evaluate and assess how views and experiences have changed over time.
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