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It’s either lunch or a tampon

Author:
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By Kaylen Forsyth

What could easily be mistaken as the dismal opening to some generic dystopian fiction is actually a common reality for over 1.2 billion women across the globe. Yes, you read that figure correctly. You can put down your cup of coffee and rub your eyes as much as you want – the figure won’t change. At least a billion women on this planet do not have access to basic sanitation, which means when they menstruate every month, they endure with little to no period products. And it isn’t just an issue exclusive to women; many trans men and non-binary people are also living with the brutal reality of period poverty as well.

Whether you’re somebody who has periods or not – just imagine being in such a wretched position that you have to suffer circa six to seven days of bleeding without the necessary products to ensure not only hygiene and dignity, but also basic health and safety.

More and more people are unable to afford sanitary items like pads and tampons during their period. This puts them in an unimaginable position each month and it’s not like they get a month off where they don’t have to worry about this problem. It’s a constant source of distress and anxiety. Ceaseless.

Nobody should have to make the decision between buying some tampons or buying lunch- but so many people are forced with that choice. In Kenya as high as 50% of school-age girls cannot afford period products. What’s even more harrowing is that 1 in 10 Kenyan teenage girls (aged 15 years) have had to engage in sexual acts in order to receive the money to buy sanitary products. A similar situation is happening in India with 12% of over 350 million menstruating people unable to afford products.

However, this isn’t an issue exclusive to developing nations. It’s prevalent in British society as well. And of course, it isn’t just an issue exclusive to women. As many as 1 in 10 young people in the United Kingdom can’t afford either pads or tampons at some point in their lives.

Those of us who can afford such necessary items when the time comes take that for granted. I’ve complained about the cost of period products at times because it’s a degrading outrage, but I’ve rarely stopped to question the wider ramifications and how other people in a less fortunate position than myself might be affected.

A regular packet of tampons costs between £2 to £3. During a monthly period the average person will use around two packets meaning the ridiculous cost of around £6. That’s six pounds just to go through a natural (unstoppable) bodily function with at least some element of cleanliness and dignity. This doesn’t even factor in the cost of painkillers for those who might suffer from severe pains and cramps.

Given the soaring levels of poverty in this country, it’s obvious that mass amounts of people just cannot afford this, which is why so many women, particularly those living on the streets, go without food during their period. It’s either lunch or a tampon.

Period poverty has always been a major issue. For as long as there’s been poverty, there have been menstruating women desperately trying to get through their time of the month as best they can. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the 2016 Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake that the gravity of period poverty really hit home. The film showed a harrowing scene in which a poor single mother reaches her wit’s end and shoplifts sanitary pads because they’re priced way higher than she can afford. According to RightsInfo, following the release of I, Daniel Blake at least 15 food banks reported a significant increase in the donation of period-related items. This highlights a remarkable sense of both compassion and empathy sparked within the public consciousness, with the potential to grow bigger.

With the Tories in government since 10BC, there has been a substantial surge in the use of food banks. Austerity has meant that in the year of 2016/17 charities handed out up to 1.2 million emergency food parcels. Intense poverty such as this leaves younger people fighting the brunt end. Whether it’s the children of poor families or young people attempting independence away from their parents or carers, poverty hits them with a force. Because of decreasing levels of benefit income, families that include children are more likely to live in harsh poverty. Inevitably this means young girls and women are economising on the number of tampons they use during a period. This runs the risk of infection and the sometimes-fatal toxic shock syndrome.

This risk is enormous for homeless women. Those who do manage to purchase or get a hold of pads and tampons do so at the expense of their own nutritional health, sometimes not eating for days on end. To make the products last, they rip up sanitary pads to create makeshift tampons. On the other hand, women who haven’t been able to get access to any products at all must use alternative methods. For example – toilet paper, cotton balls, paper bags, plastic bags, newspaper and magazines, make-up pads, socks, ripped pieces of clothing. Basically, whatever is available in bins or on the street or what they already own.

The fact that there is a myriad of women in this kind of rock and a hard place position in our country is simply unacceptable. The truth of period poverty serves as a disturbing symptom of wider social issues brought about by a callous government of austerity and apathy. We need to display our anger at a government content to let women suffer in this way, without hygiene and dignity. We need to voice our outrage and empathy, to combat cool indifference.

There is an unjustified stigma attached to menstruation. Surely society will benefit from dismantling the taboo surrounding periods. Isn’t it time we stop shying away? We should keep an ongoing dialogue about it with the hope of making more people aware of period poverty – to work towards making sanitary items available for everyone. After all, it’s not a privilege but a basic human right to feel clean and dignified.

Ways to help:

You can donate or get more information from-

http://thehomelessperiod.com/

https://www.bloodygoodperiod.com/#intro

https://www.change.org/p/theresa-may-mp-free-menstrual-products-for-all-children-on-free-school-meals-freeperiods

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-hampshire-43148080/period-poverty-helping-homeless-and-vulnerable-women

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/19/british-girls-period-poverty-menstruation-sanitary-products

https://www.studyinternational.com/news/period-poverty-hinders-childrens-education-globally/

And donating sanitary products to your local foodbanks and homeless shelters helps too!

There’s a reason I don’t have 100k for a housing deposit, and it’s not an £832 lottery ticket habit

Author:
fourrowhouses

By Pip Williams

I’m a Millennial, and your out of touch saving plans don’t reflect my lifestyle

Millennials – defined as the generation born between about 1980 and 2000 – are pretty much all adults now. When this September rolls around, the cohort of students hitting British universities will include students born in this millennium. Why is it, then, that adults from the generations before us still feel the need to patronise us with instructions on how to live our lives.

Earlier this week, London newspaper Evening Standard ran a video summarising how an estate agent named Strutt and Parker thinks millennials should change their lifestyle in order to save for a housing deposit. The “luxuries” we should all apparently be eschewing include:

  • A night out once a week, valued at £6000 per annum
  • Takeaways, valued at £2640 per annum
  • Phone upgrades, valued at £154 per annum
  • Lottery tickets, valued at £832 per annum
  • Ready-made salads and sandwiches, valued at £2576 per annum
  • Foreign city breaks, valued at £700 per annum

Vice did a pretty good breakdown of how ridiculous these costs are, but as a 23-year-old student living just outside London, I’d like to give you a rundown of how they compare to my life.

I’m a middle class student who does receive regular financial help from my parents alongside my maintenance loan, so in theory I should be one of the most comfortably off in my bracket. Let me tell you, my life doesn’t come anywhere close to Strutt and Parker’s figures. (For clarity, I’m excluding rent and regular utility payments from my budget calculations.)

Let’s start with that night once a week, apparently valued at £115.38 each time. First up, that alone costs more than my weekly budget. Secondly, I’ll add that I probably go on big nights out in London once a term, because of the cost of drinks. Thirdly, I’ll add that a big night out probably comes in at around a third of that cost for me – say £10 on travel and £30 maximum on club entries and drinks. If I got home and found myself over £100 out of pocket, I’d be furious and distraught. Anyone imagining that I’m doing that once a month, let alone once a week, must be sorely mistaken!

Now onto those pesky takeaways. £50.77 a week, is it? Coming in at over half my weekly budget, this figure feels similarly out of touch. My local takeaway’s minimum delivery is £16, and I usually struggle to make it up to that even ordering for myself and a housemate. Assuming that we split that cost between two of us, that’s £8 each. How often do we do that? Maybe once a month. We’re spending in a year what Strutt and Parker reckons we spend in 2 weeks.

I don’t have much to say about phone upgrades. I upgrade every 2 years and I’m on a fixed tariff contract so the price doesn’t change. Cutting out the upgrades would make my contract a little cheaper, sure, but it would also mean my phone would be pretty obsolete within a couple of years. Considering I’m in a long-distance relationship and don’t live near many of my friends, I’m labeling that one a necessary expense (for myself, at any rate).

To me, the estimated lottery ticket spending is the most absurd figure. I’m apparently meant to be spending 2 months-worth of my yearly budget on lottery tickets!? I don’t know anyone under the age of 60 who buys lottery tickets, let alone spends SIXTEEN BRITISH POUNDS A WEEK ON THEM.

Hang in there, we’re almost done. Just two more ridiculous claims to debunk. Apparently millenials are spending £49.36 a WEEK on ready-made sandwiches and salads. In my uni café, sandwiches cost about £2.50. Assuming I was buying lunch there every weekday, I’d be spending £12.50 a week. Even if I decided to splash out and go elsewhere for a bougie lil Pret flatbread every day, that would still only cost about £25 a week. As Joel Golby points out in the Vice piece, “the ingredients for sandwiches are not, despite your calculations, free, and once you’ve actually spent money on, say, bread and ham and cheese, you’re not actually vastly up on money you would have spent on just buying one at a shop anyway.

He makes a fair point. I usually do make my sandwiches at home, and I spend about £5 a week on the ingredients I need to do so. Subtract that cost from the £12.50 I could be spending on sandwiches in uni, and I’m saving a princely £7.50 a week. That does add up, I suppose, to £390 a year, but it’s still a far cry from Strutt and Parker’s calculation of £2576.

Onto the final point: foreign city breaks. This is something I do do when I have the time and money (so once a year, if I’m lucky). In the past two years, I have been to Budapest for four days and Berlin for six days. All expenses included – flights, accommodation, food, and spending money – Budapest cost me under £200. Berlin was more expensive, and I had a lot of financially-associated regrets as a result, but it was still under £400 in total. In two years, I still spent less than half of what Strutt and Parker would have expected me to. Holidays may be a luxury, but they’re something we all need from time to time, and cutting them out can have an extremely detrimental effect on our mental health. As Golby says, “I might have a house by the end of it, but I’ll also have a death wish.”

So, there we go. In overview, Strutt and Parker reckon their tips will save you £12902 a year. To put that in context, that’s almost double the disposable cash I have in that period. This is cash I need to feed myself, to buy clothes, to travel to see my girlfriend and my family, to buy cat litter.

The people telling millennials how to save are so devastatingly out of touch with the realities of our lives that their tips are utterly obsolete. There’s a reason we don’t have £100k for a housing deposit, and let me tell you, it’s not an £832 lottery ticket habit.

Jeremy Corbyn and the fightback against capitalism

Author:
corbyn 2

By Kaylen Forsyth

Content note: Reference to abortion

Even some weeks later, Britain is still reeling from the tidal wave of shock that was the General Election, which saw the Tories fail to secure a majority and subsequently scrapple for a deal with the DUP. Everything about this dreaded minority government screams danger. With both party’s ideals terrifyingly prehistoric, this is a massive step back for social progression in the United Kingdom.

The anonymity of the DUP in isles other than Northern Ireland means that a vast amount of their policies and principles remain unknown. So, to be clear, this is a party that rejects a woman’s freedom of choice. In fact, they go out of their way to actively oppose a woman’s right to an abortion. A former minister for the DUP once attempted to increase the sentence length for women who have abortions in private clinics to at least ten years. And that only scratches the surface of the DUP’s problems…

This is not a party I’m sure any of us want to see wield even the slightest trace of power. But alas, they now hold more seats in total than the Liberal Democrats, and now the initials DUP are going to move from arbitrary letters most people have never heard of, to letters uttered so often we switch over the television channel when we hear them.

A country led by Theresa May, with the DUP holding substantial influence also, seems a very dark country indeed… but hope streams through, and the face of hope is in every sense Jeremy Corbyn.

In the political climate of 2017 Britain, this is the fact: anything that is a knock for a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour, is a knock for equality. The same can be said, more positively perhaps, vice versa: anything that’s a win for Corbyn’s Labour, is more than likely going to be a win for equality too. And here’s why…

Capitalist thinking has infected every vein of thought. It has done so cunningly, so people do not taste the poison while they’re being fed it. Some even vote for this poison, believing it to be the antidote. Even progressive attitudes are at risk from this “pull the ladder up Jack and sod the rest” viewpoint.

Here’s an example: the rise of consumerism has seen a complete transmutation of popular feminism. Or perhaps, mainstream feminism. In some respect, the principles behind it have been diluted into something easy to swallow and marketable. Yes. That’s scary, when the power of capitalist and consumerist thought is so prevalent in society that women’s rights can be treated like a commodity. Owning a house so big that you have an entire room devoted to diamonds, and then maybe making a documentary on it, in the name of feminism, demonstrating your kick-ass independence and choice is actually not a good thing. It does not analyse societal hierarchies, it does not seek to reveal forms of injustice or power mechanisms- it does nothing. It’s empty and the only thing it reflects is ignorance and subservience to corporate power. Essentially it is feeding the system that is trying to bring us down, giving them the power to do so faster.

If the idea is being perpetuated that the perks of capitalism- which are only perks for an elite- can be called feminism, then we are perpetuating the idea that injustice can continue so long as a few people can own their room full of diamonds. What I’m saying is, this mainstream feminism is surely contradictory to the values it claims to cherish.

The ultimate result of this perpetuation is self-centeredness. Working together to eradicate other people’s injustices is buried beneath the belief that our own situation is the only one that matters. Everywhere, I see this notion of a Strong Independent Woman ™. That’s true. The generic idea of an independent, accomplished, feminist woman is underlined by capitalism. Louboutin heels, an executive job, Kylie Jenner’s lip kit on her mouth. Any other form of independent woman in the lens of mainstream feminism is viewed as a loser. It’s just not right. We have been manipulated into thinking the only option is to consume everything on the conveyor belt, lest fall behind the times. Isolation is the only consequence of this exploitation and it’s something to be fought against.

Where does the face of politics fit into all of this? We need a government that completely rejects this movement of individualism at the expense of humanity. For the past seven years, we’ve had a Tory government. People in power telling us valuing ourselves over community is exercising our freedom. Thus, when notions like this are being both realised and actualised, capitalist feminism flourishes, human rights become a commodity used by corporations, and we ignore the fact that society is unequal, that so many people aren’t eating tonight or tomorrow morning.

A Corbyn-led Britain would help to reaffirm the importance of community spirit, establish the significance of the equality of everyone, and hopefully wipe out the idea that it’s fine to thrive on a system that promotes using the destitution of others as a ladder rung to owning their very own room full of diamonds.

The rape clause: thoughts on Tory women in politics

Author:
32793567693_81abae82d7_b

By Isla Whateley

Content note: discussion of rape and the law around rape

As a woman in politics, you are a minority. In both Westminster (UK) and Holyrood (Scotland) parliaments, about a third of elected politicians are women. Both the UK Prime Minister and the Scottish First Minister are women, however, and some may say this is an ‘achievement’ for women and feminism. But this is not necessarily the case.

The Conservative government, led by Theresa May (the second ever woman Prime Minister), has just put forward changes to child tax credits. Child tax credits are part of the welfare system in the UK; a benefit that low-income working parents get. As a child in a low-income, lone parent family, I benefitted hugely from the tax credits that we received. They were introduced by the Labour government that were in power for 13 years, 1997 to 2010, for almost all of my childhood. Although I was an only child, there was no cap for the amount of tax credits you received based on the number of children you had. My mum and I have a lot to thank Labour for and we wouldn’t have been able to get by without it.

Fast forward to now. Theresa May and the Conservatives have put a cap on child tax credits to two children – the ‘family cap’. Sounds unfair, right? It gets worse. If you have more than two children, sorry, no welfare for you. Unless one of these children is a result of a rape. You are forced to disclose this if you want to receive this welfare.

First of all, this completely undermines and ignores the extreme trauma rape causes. Rape is a violent crime, and many survivors suffer from mental illnesses such PTSD, depression and anxiety as a result. The legal system is rigged against women and survivors – hence, rape is ridiculously under-reported and under-convicted. Imagine undergoing all of that, and then being forced to disclose this highly sensitive, traumatic information in order to put food on the table for your children. It is clear that no survivors, sexual assault charities or women’s organisations were consulted in the formulation of this clause. At best, it is anti-feminist and undermines survivor’s autonomy . At worst, it will result in death.

On April 25th, in the Scottish Parliament, there was a debate on this issue. Kezia Dugdale, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, read out a letter from a rape victim and attacked Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, for being the only Scottish party leader to not have condemned the clause. Davidson, like May, is a prominent Tory and a woman. Neither of them seem to care about this.

So how did a government led by a woman let this go through? Sadly, being a woman does not equal being a feminist. This goes for politicians too. The Tories have actively pursued an austerity agenda since being in government, in order to combat the deficit, and there is extensive evidence that austerity disproportionately affects marginalised groups. This most definitely includes women – who are most likely to be affected by the rape clause.

For me, feminism is intersectional and must represent all women – especially if they are single parents, rape survivors, or low-income. It is one thing having Conservative men promote the rape clause, but a completely different issue when Ruth Davidson refuses to comment. Her silence and inaction says so much more than words could – that she doesn’t care. She doesn’t care enough to fight against this horrific injustice. In Scotland, we can’t do anything to stop it apart from lobby the Westminster government. Ruth Davidson is my local MSP, and I can say for sure that she represents survivors of sexual assault in this constituency. Her silence is abhorrent and very telling of the nature of many women Conservatives in the public eye.

Thankfully, many other Scottish politicians and activists are taking a stand. Two protests have taken place already – one in Glasgow, on Thursday 13th April, and one in Edinburgh on Thursday 20th April. At both, prominent campaigners and politicians spoke against the clauses, and hundreds of people turned up to show their support. There is a petition that can be signed here to bring further awareness to the issue, if you are a UK citizen. It is also important to vote against the Tories in the upcoming snap General Election – they are actively damaging to women and our rights. Register to vote here by 22nd May 2017!

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