Last Wednesday Labour Councillor Nicola Taylor reintroduced the Motion which she
formulated last Summer but not debated in November 2018 when the Council ran out of debating time.
It will seem odd to many that Council procedures allow a subject that both
political parties agree is important to be kicked into the long grass for six months, but it was.
Councillor Taylor (Labour, Erith) wanted Bexley Council to support The Red Box Project which aims to provide sanitary products to girls who might otherwise have to miss school. The Motion rather provocatively said that “This Council recognises that recent Welfare Reforms have left families of young girls with the choice of not eating to be able to afford sanitary products or missing vital days at school”.
Why do they do that? They know that such a choice of words will be a red rag to the Tory bull.
Another problem with the well meaning Motion is that since it was originally proposed the Secretary of State for Education has agreed to provide free menstrual products for girls in receipt of free school meals from next September (secondary schools) and 2020 (primary schools).
Councillor Taylor’s address to the Council was heartfelt but overtly political mentioning along the way that a previous Education Secretary [the always appalling] Justine Greening rejected such a scheme in 2017 and a school in Theresa May’s constituency begged parents for donations of toilet rolls.
She explained in sometimes graphic detail involving socks and newspapers the problems created in poor families by “period poverty” and how The Red Box Project set about helping them.
In Bexley they were already distributing products through the libraries in Welling, Blackfen and Erith but full and official Council support was required.
Councillor Mabel Ogundayo (Thamesmead East) seconded the Motion saying among other things that she doubted many in the room would have any idea what sanitary products cost. £10 per month was her estimate and being one of the ignorant myself I was moved to check the prices on Amazon and discovered that they ranged from nine to twenty pence per item. £10 is a figure supported by some surveys but not the ladies I plucked up the courage to ask who suggested 20 tampons per month would be an absolute maximum number.
Even so, if you have maybe three daughters that is quite a chunk of money if you haven’t any spare.
But I digress, how would such a laudable Motion as Nicola Taylor’s go down with Conservative Councillors?
The Motion was applauded by Labour Members but the Conservatives sat in stony silence however they must have liked it because they pulled their usual trick to cover such eventualities; they produced their own alternative Motion to ensure that the Labour Group would not be able to claim credit for it.
The dirty deed fell to Councillor Caroline Newton (Conservative, East Wickham). Her alternative Motion praised the Red Box Project and welcomed the government initiatives. However it failed to specifically support the Project and naturally it omitted the implied criticism of government policy.
Relying on the government alone will kick help for period poverty another six months or more down the road. More than a year in total of Bexley Council procrastination. Politics must always come before people.
Councillor Howard Jackson (Conservative, Barnehurst) spoke in support of the alternative Motion adding that “this is a service not best suited to the voluntary sector”. I was disappointed to hear him introduce political point scoring to such an important debate and ridiculing Labour’s support for the voluntary sector and referring to their usual “disdain”. He seconded the amended Motion. Labour Leader Daniel Francis (Belvedere) said “it was a cheap remark” and he was right. He said that he knew school teachers who were buying sanitary products for pupils out of their own pockets and it was disappointing that that Red Box was getting cross party support in neighbouring boroughs but not in Bexley.
Just before the vote was taken Cabinet Member for Education made a surprise announcement. He said that he had been in touch with every secondary school and found that every single one of them already supplied free sanitary products to those who needed them, either through Red Box or by negotiation with manufacturers. How this can be reconciled with Councillor Francis’s comment is unknown.
The vote was taken and #doitforbexley was relegated to the back seat, however given John Fuller’s announcement Bexley Council’s failure to act now should have little effect.
Labour Group Press Release.