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September 29, 2021

Hygiene poverty is a hidden epidemic in Aotearoa

Soap For Society seeks to raise awareness of the impacts

Hygiene poverty is the inability to afford hygiene essentials, such as shampoo, soap, deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and period products. Soap For Society is a registered charity that was set up to help raise awareness of hygiene poverty in the community. Established as a grass-roots movement to create change, it collects toiletries and beauty products, and distributes these to its charitable partners, including the City Missions in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

Hygiene poverty has been described as a hidden epidemic in the developed world.

This is because many people who experience it are either unaware of their condition or are too ashamed to speak out and seek help. No statistical survey or tool used to inform policy in Aotearoa New Zealand currently measures hygiene poverty – this increases the invisibility of the issue and the likelihood it will continue to be an issue for the most vulnerable.

BERL was commissioned by Soap For Society to undertake research on the state of hygiene poverty for whānau in Aotearoa New Zealand. To better understand what the scale of hygiene poverty may be, we looked at the experiences of people who use City Mission Services, national statistical data on poverty, and overseas research.

Our recommendations include:

  • Questions on hygiene poverty, including period poverty, need to be included in Government survey tools measuring poverty and hardship, such as the DEP-17 and the Material Wellbeing Index
  • Products that promote sanitation, such as masks, hand sanitiser, and household cleaning products are vital for public health in the midst of a pandemic, but they are not affordable for everyone. Affordability and equitable access need to be considered in the overall public health response
  • While awareness of and support for period poverty for those at school is vital, it is just the tip of the iceberg. More work needs to be done to enhance the dignity of people of all ages who have periods, particularly those who do not benefit from the Government initiative in schools and kura
  • Goods and Services Tax (GST) needs to be removed from tampons, sanitary pads, and related reusable period products, to remove barriers to access
  • Community agencies, such as the City Missions and food banks, are overstretched and under-resourced when it comes to combating hygiene poverty. They need increased funding to provide hygiene products to those who most need them.

Soap For Society’s 2021 collection campaign will be running from 4 to 18 October. To find out how you can support by donating products at drop off locations or through financial contributions, visit their website here.

To read the full report, click here.