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How We Reach MP’s Claim That Periods Cost Women £500 A Year – Tampons, Panties, Pain Relief, Chocolate, DVDs

A Member of Parliament claimed, yesterday, actually in the House of Commons, that periods cost British women £500 each a year. OK, so we can make jokes about replacing the thrown crockery if we wish but of course none of us would descend to mere comedy over such an important subject. Except, of course, those who are claiming the £500 figure. Because it’s tosh.

However, it’s interesting tosh for we’ve got here a useful little story about how untruths become accepted truths in the political discussion. After all, we do indeed have this being stated as a bald fact in the House. Anyone can go to Hansard and see it:

Danielle Rowley

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I would like to announce to you and to the House—perhaps you will excuse my lateness—that today I am on my period, and this week it has already cost me £25. We know that the average cost of periods in the UK over a year is £500, which many women cannot afford. What is the Minister doing to address period poverty?

“We know that….”….five hundred quid? We do know that, do we? Well, people do keep repeating it:

Now research claims that the average woman spends over £18,000 in a lifetime on sanitary wear and other items to make the monthly event slightly more bearable, which made me wonder whether the old slogan should be replaced with “Have a luxury period!” The average UK annual salary is £26,500; how are we spending almost 68% of one year’s money on tampons and cocodamol? Have I missed something? Are other women using feather-light cashmere pads, and comfort snacking on Fabergé eggs instead of barbecue Kettle Chips?

Well, yes, you have missed something. It’s nonsense. Doesn’t stop it having become that accepted political fact though, does it? As even Mumsnet is pointing out:

I hear the story on the radio about MP Danielle Rowley standing up in parliament to speak out about period poverty.

Good on her – it shouldn’t be a taboo subject and I feel for the homeless women or those in poverty who cannot afford basic luxuries. But I can’t agree with her statement that each period costs £25, and that women spend £500 a year on sanitary products.

You can buy a 20 pack of supermarket own brand tampons for £1 and that lasts a whole period. Even if you buy Tampax you won’t be spending more than £3. Sanitary towels are about the same.

You can pick up some painkillers for under £1. I know some women have extreme periods which require prescription medication, but this is uncommon and it still wouldn’t cost anywhere near £25.

Some would probably argue it’s the cost of replacing soiled knickers, but the whole period poverty campaign is centred around sanitary protection, not giving women women to buy new knickers after a period (I wish!)

I want sanitary protection to be free as much as the next person, but I just can’t abide by these exaggerations. Any woman knows they don’t spend £25 every month on their period, and if you are spending this much there is something seriously wrong.

Well, yes, and I commented upon this a year ago:

The problem is a distressing one: that poor women, not least the homeless, cannot afford menstrual products, tampons, pads and so forth. If this is indeed the case, then can we honestly call ourself a civilised society? The production and availability of such things should be one of the undoubted gains that capitalism hath wrought.

So let’s return to the initial problem. Is it true that tampons are unaffordable? A quick look around Amazon or Morrison’s, to take two examples, tells us that own brands are of the order of 5p each, £1 for a box of 20 tampons. It is undoubtedly true that many will prefer branded to own-brand, which is why there are so many on the shelves. But even they seem to be little more than twice that price. I could also make the point here about the welfare state and our duty to the less well-off: we promise adequate housing, not a mansion; bus fare not a limo ride.

So, where does this £500 number come from? Through this miracle of this ‘ere internet I’m able to tell you. It comes from a cod survey. Published in Huffington Post. The survey conducted on behalf of a website called “” About which we can say a couple of interesting things.

If you wish to increase your Google postion, your Google Fu, then you need to get nicely highly ranked sites to link to your site. If such high ranked sites link to you then Google thinks your own site is more important and places your own site higher up in the search rankings. The whole game is called “SEO” and it’s a vital if often grubby part of the online ecosystem. One way to do it is to pay journalists to include a link to your site – this is very naughty and I am not claiming this has happened here. That’s what’s known as Black Hat SEO. There’s also White Hat. One useful method of which is to cook up a survey claiming some improbable but fashionable result and watch is spread virally. It’s a variation on that Beach Body Ready ad where it’s the rest of the media doing the heavy lifting for free. I’d note that HuffPo links to the voucher site without using the “nofollow” attribute which means that the survey worked. Google now thinks, as a result of the HuffPo link, that this voucher site is more important than other other sites and thus it appears higher in the search rankings.

But note what happens now, this is where we get our political facts from. And what is it included in our calculation of the costs of a period?

Next, respondents were asked to think of the average amount of money they spend each month on different areas relating to their period, with the totals emerging as follows:

· Pads/tampons/panty-liners/menstrual cups – £13

· New underwear (due to spillages) -£8

· Pain relief – £4.50

· Chocolate/sweets/crisps – £8.50

· Other (magazines/toiletries/DVDs etc.) – £7

Taking these monthly estimates into account, researchers were able to work out that the average period costs £492 annually.

Really? Even Rilly? Given the subject under discussion we can hardly call this totally scrotal now, can we? But whatever the other gender specific equivalent is. Ovarian? It’s nonsense.

And yet someone just stood up in Parliament and stated this as a fact known to us all.

No wonder we’ve got problems with the way the country’s being run, eh?

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Rhoda Klapp
Rhoda Klapp
5 years ago

That’s trivial compared to the amount of money needed when they stop, for whatever reason.

Esteban DeGolf
Esteban DeGolf
5 years ago

Quite a racket the political Left has going on – create a dodgy statistic, run it up the flagpole very noisily before anyone has had a chance to look into the details & voila, it can be used as THE TRUTH for quite some time. In the U.S. we have a couple of these that may never die: “97% of scientists agree that Catastrophic Manmade Global Warming is real” and “20% of female college students are raped”. The Emily Littella moment never seems to get reported.

Hector Drummond
5 years ago

These ‘statistics’ get used as the truth for years after they’ve been exposed. They never die. After the nuclear holocaust the only things living will be cockroaches, and they’ll all be telling each other “Did you know 1 in 4 human college girls got raped”, and “Human women used to spend £25 a month on their menstrual needs, and that’s just for buying cheap own-brand tampons”.

5 years ago

I demand recompense for the costs of shaving.

5 years ago

The truly annoying part is the G quotes Jessica Valenti about luxury tax. Maybe a luxury tax rate is charged in the States but sanitary products are at the lowest rate for VAT, 5%. The only way it can go lower is to build a time machine to before we joined the EEC. If they can’t get the basics right about these things why should we trust what they say about anything else?

Hallowed Be
Hallowed Be
5 years ago

whoever crunched the numbers assumed no one has kids and doesn’t skip the bloody part while on the pill. (far from an expert but i believe its an option quite a few take)

5 years ago

Anything that asks somebody what they spend without receipts as proof is complete avocadoes.

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