No, this isn't the way to do it - money, not tampons

There is a claim from Scotland that women on benefits cannot afford menstrual products. This may or may not be true but let us, arguendo, assume that it is. The suggested solution is that there should be a state distribution of free to the user menstrual products. This is the wrong solution, entirely incorrect.

If people do not have the money to buy something essential then the solution is to give them the money to buy it, not to provide that thing "free". There are two reasons for this. But the suggestion first:

Tampons and other sanitary products should be given free to women receiving working age benefits, the Trussell Trust charity has said as the Scottish parliament held its first debate on “period poverty”.

Ewan Gurr, the Scotland development officer for the trust, called on the SNP government to consider making feminine hygiene products available free to women in receipt of certain targeted benefits.

Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s inequalities spokesperson, who tabled the motion with cross-party support, has championed the issue of menstrual inequality since her election last May as the MSP for Central Scotland.

On Tuesday evening she called for a “firm commitment” from the Scottish government to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the accessibility and affordability of feminine hygiene products.

The first reason against this idea is agency. All of us, without exception, prefer to deploy whatever resources we have as we think they will be best deployed. This is to have agency over our lives. The inevitable effect of this is that we value things that we are given less than we would value the money they cost, or than the receipt of the money they cost. This is the standard argument against the American system of welfare where instead of people getting benefits to buy whatever they receive food stamps which can only be used to buy certain foods. Inevitably there is a black market in Snap cards and the most common sale is $1 on the card in return for 50 cents in cash, the cash then being spent on nappies (there are also those who spend the cash on heroin, beer and so on but that's agency for you).

Even the US Census when measuring poverty admits, somewhat sheepishly, that recipients value goods and services in kind at less than they cost to provide. We can thus make all richer by giving people in need cash to cover said needs rather than offering goods and or services. Either the poor are richer because they value the cash more or we are richer because we can give less cash and they achieve the same level of utility anyway. 

The second is from personal experience: we're of the sort of age and experience where we've done that quick run to the shops. And inevitably come back with or without wings, or applicator, or of the wrong brand, or type. So which of all of these should it be that the state should stock and provide? Some admixture of all? Each store with the free supplies copying that supermarket aisle containing all those choices? Or should those who know which type they prefer simply have the resources to go to that supermarket aisle to collect and pay for the type they prefer? 

Quite clearly that second option is going to work rather better in fitting product to desires. For we've rather a lot of evidence that state planning of what people want to have is rather less efficient than the market's provision, driven by that lust for filthy lucre, of what people desire to have.

So, if we assume that the original charge is true, that women in Scotland do not have the resources to purchase menstrual products the solution is to increase the resources available, not to try to have a state system of "free" provision of them.

Leaving only the important question left. Is it actually true that women in Scotland do not have such resources?