The Hygiene Bank's story started with the anti austerity film, ‘I Daniel Blake’ by Ken Loach. A moving and harrowing film that exposes the cruel realities of those who fall through the cracks of our society. 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 our 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 sanitary pads, razors and a bottle of deodorant.
After watching the film Lizzy visited her local food bank who confirmed that toiletries were donated but only on an ad hoc basis. Friends who were teachers talked of girls improvising with loo roll or scrunched up socks in their pants as sanitary protection. They talked about the impact of hygiene issues on social exclusion and how they and many of their colleagues resorted to buying pupils shampoo and deodorant or washing their uniform.
Further reading around the subject identified ‘Hygiene Poverty’ and ‘Period Poverty’ as a hidden crisis in the UK. Buying the basics like sanitary protection, shampoo, toothpaste or deodorant when we need them is something most of us take for granted. For many on a low-income however, especially those who rely on food banks, these essential products have become out of reach luxuries. Illness, disability, family breakdown or loss of a job can leave people destitute, and these unplanned 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 young women are going 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 and girls skip school and miss out on their education because they can’t afford sanitary protection. Teens get bullied for body odour because buying deodorant would have meant missing a meal.
The very idea of hygiene poverty is embarrassing and so galvanised to do something, Lizzy put out a plea for hygiene and personal care products to her friends on WhatsApp. Donations flooded in. The reaction was overwhelming and extremely moving. Lizzy had tapped into people’s desire to help. All she had to do was find a way to facilitate that and within a few weeks The Hygiene Bank was born.