“It’s very upsetting that they think 3p will make a difference”
By Heidi Stedeford
Nearly everyone was adversely impacted by the pandemic in 2020. Many individuals and families felt an unexpected squeeze on expenses, from weightier gas and electric bills from more time spent at home, childrens’ time away from school creating bigger food bills and lack of access to free school meals for much of the year, to one’s mental checklist of outside essentials widening to include easily-dirtied face masks to quickly-evaporating hand gel.
This all comes at no small cost in a present-day UK which seems perversely hostile to a life lived well: rising unemployment, decreasing government support, increasingly constrained charity food supplies, a stagnant job market. Add to this national landscape a hardline asylum policy, which creates a bar on working whilst a claim is pending - this can take 6-months to years. Then add a mere 3 pence increase to the already inadequate £39.60 per week in cash support in June. This makes living through a pandemic whilst claiming for asylum not just difficult, but impossible without additional support. Living as an asylum seeker is an already incredibly difficult, and often traumatic, experience, which is then made worse by policies that lack both morality and practicality - policies created by humans, who seemingly don’t realise that other humans cannot live with dignity, for free.
A recent report by Asylum Matters reveals that 92% of people seeking asylum say £39.60 is not enough to buy all they need; 84% said they don’t always have enough money to buy food; and 63% stated they could not always afford the medicines they needed. A 3 pence increase will not make this situation any easier. Indeed, many are calling it an ‘insult, not an increase’. When you factor in a potential monthly cost of £20 for those experiencing a heavy and/or irregular period - something which is often reported by refugees and asylum-seekers after the stress and trauma they have experienced - and the stark reality of an environment hostile to people with periods whilst claiming asylum is laid bare.
The Home Office responded, stating the increase is fair, generous and an above-inflation increase of 5% from June. Fobbing off genuine concerns with economic lingo on the pound’s purchasing power demonstrates just how out of touch this government appears to be.
In October 2020, Eva, a 34-year-old woman seeking asylum in the UK, recently shared with us her own response to the government’s 3 pence pandemic increase to asylum-seekers’ support.
"I’ve been in ‘the system’ for over 10 years, and it’s worse now than when I started the process. It’s very upsetting that they think 3p will make a difference.
Even though everyone goes through exactly the same asylum process, people are split into different groups – in section 95 you get cash, but if your claim has been refused you are treated differently. You’re in section 4, and you don’t get cash - instead you are limited to shop in specific stores. That's the wrong way to segregate people. Losing the freedom to shop where you choose is embarrassing and undignified – they’ve taken away someone’s small freedom, to be able to shop where one pleases or wishes. Yet this is supposed to be a country with freedom of choice.
It’s also impossible to manage. It means always shopping in the reduced section and bargain-hunting to make your money stretch so that you can pay for meals, travel and other essentials. If you, your children or parents have allergies it means you have to adapt your diet so that no-one lacks the required nutrients, so it’s harder to stay healthy on a stretched budget. It also impacts what hygiene products you can buy, and their quality. If you have fibroids or cysts with constant bleeding, it’s an expensive affair."
Charities like Bloody Good Period are therefore needed to fill the government gap in support to those seeking asylum - individuals legally barred from getting a job, whilst given £118.80 in a standard 4-week month, a total that is extremely difficult to stretch even when being extremely careful. Bloody Good Period alone has seen a huge increase in demand in the last year, donating over 60,000 packs of pads since March alone.
People with periods should not be forced into having terrible periods, using potentially inappropriate and harmful alternatives to pads or tampons, using period products for far too long, or using nothing at all because they are not given liveable monetary support. This is not an issue that should be being solved by small charities and the goodwill of donors, especially when billions of pounds can be quickly spent, for example, through VIP procurement channels on PPE. But that is the situation we face today in the UK.
Periods are quite literally part and parcel of creating human life. Without periods, the politicians who are currently obfuscating their responsibility to asylum seekers, would not be here. It is high time the government listened to the experiences of individuals, like Eva, and the voice of charities and activist organisations such as Bloody Good Period.
Take action and sign our petition for free period products here. Write to your MP to ask them to raise the call for free period products and get the government taking action - we've got a letter you can adapt here, and a tweet here. You can find your MP's contact details here.
While we wait for bloody change, donate to help us provide them for everyone who needs them.
Eva, 34, is from Kenya. She shared her views with us freely and with no sense of obligation, because she wants to help us highlight the government's ongoing hostile approach to refugees and asylum-seekers. In recognition of her time and emotional labour she has been given vouchers in return for her contributions to our communications.
Heidi is one of our Bloody Babes A.K.A. Part of our Volunteer Crew.