The Hygiene Bank's story started in the UK with the film ‘I Daniel Blake' by Ken Loach, a moving and harrowing film that exposes the harsh realities of those in our society who fall through the cracks. It portrays a place in which empathy has little place and no allowance is made for the chaos of everyday life. One particular scene stuck in the mind of The Hygiene Bank UK founder Lizzy Hall. The scene is of Katie, a single mother of two (played by actress Hayley Squires) who is caught shoplifting and in her bag they find a pack of period pads, razors and a bottle of deodorant.
Following some research with local food banks and teachers, it became clear that hygiene poverty and period poverty was a hidden crisis. Girls use loo roll and scrunched up socks as sanitary protection as pads and tampons are too expensive. Children skip PE lessons because they don’t have clean kit to wear. In both of these cases, this can lead to children and young people missing out on school and their education.
We all make financial choices, but for those living in poverty these choices can be extremely stark.
The Hygiene Bank set up to tackle this issue of hygiene poverty by supplying local foodbanks, schools and other organisations with toiletries, hygiene products and household cleaning products.
Hygiene poverty isn’t unique to the UK. In Ireland, 640,000 people are at risk of poverty based on their income. Food poverty and the reliance on food parcels and Meals on Wheels is on the rise and this has been exacerbated by Covid-19. The rise in food poverty indicates the rise in hygiene poverty as well. When choices have to be made between feeding the family and buying new essential hygiene products, food is always a priority.
In 2019, the first Hygiene Bank Ireland project was set up in Dublin to deliver public donations of toiletries to local charities who support disadvantaged communities. Large donations of toiletries aren’t common, so sometimes organisations don’t have the ability to support their communities with the hygiene products needed. With the onset of the pandemic, staying clean has been more important than ever, putting even more pressure on families in financial difficulty.
Buying the basics like period products, shampoo, toothpaste or deodorant when we need them is something most of us take for granted. For many on a low-income however, these essential products have become out of reach luxuries. Illness, disability, family breakdown or loss of a job can leave people destitute, and these unforeseen events can happen to anyone.
We all make financial choices, but for those living in poverty these choices can be extremely stark. Mothers are increasingly prioritising feeding their family over buying hygiene products while teens and young adults prefer to go hungry to save themselves the humiliation of showing up at college or work with greasy hair and smelling of body odour.
Sadly, hygiene poverty comes with a social stigma that affects all areas of life, work, school and relationships. We know that a lack of access to hygiene products impacts confidence, self-esteem and prospects in those who are most vulnerable. People miss out on employment and promotion opportunities. Women find themselves housebound because they can’t afford period products, children skip school because they don't have clean uniform or PE kit.
Since 2019, The Hygiene Bank Dublin has grown into a national organisation - The Hygiene Bank Ireland - with projects in seven counties, supporting 36 organisations, and thousands of individuals with over 20,000kg of toiletries. We are still growing, with new volunteers joining us each month, all united by the shared passion for tackling the injustice of hygiene poverty.