How to judge Phil Hammond's mooted period poverty plan

It is said that Phil Hammond, the Chancellor, is to address the problem of period poverty in schools. We do not think that there is any such thing as period poverty but then so what? Reality and politics rarely do match up with each other.

There is a way though for us to judge such a plan. To work out the additional costs, the greater inefficiencies of government action. We have a distribution system for menstrual products in this country. Vast warehouses filled with aisle upon aisle of all the varied forms, shapes and technologies that can and are used to deal with this evidence of fertility. They’re called shops and they exist in near everything down to the smallest hamlet.

We can also take a stab at guessing what would be the cost of using this extant distribution system. A box of tampons - just to use as an example one of the myriad technologies and products - can be had for £1 these days. A box containing perhaps 24 pieces. Agreed, not possibly enough to deal with each and every period but when averaged out we’d not be far wrong in saying that a box per menstruating woman per month is a reasonable guesstimate as an average.

There are 3 million children in English secondary schools, some 1.5 million is a good guess at the number of girls and young women in them.

1.5 million by 13 months of the year - yes, this all works on lunar months, not solar - by our £1 per person per month gives us a total cost of £19.5 million. That’s the total cost of using the extant infrastructure to provide all the period needs of all schoolchildren. If we just added that amount to child benefit then we’d be done. Such an addition of £1 per month to child benefit for a female child of post-pubertal age would see the problem entirely dealt with.

So, how much will Phil’s plan cost?

Anything less than total provision will be an example of the greater cost of direct government action. If it turns out to be only emergency supplies that are provided, or if it’s only for some subsection of all. And of course any amount over £19.5 million even if that total need is met is also that evidence of the inefficiency of direct government action.

That the political head of steam is up for something stupid to be done about this invented problem is obvious. Given that foolishness is to happen we’ll just have to use it as an example in the future of what not to do. An example of how much more expensive it is to have that direct government action rather than a tad of financing leverage and leave markets to solve the rest of the problem.