Tampons (again …)

Grumpy has previously written on this topic, but it is not a matter per se in which he has an interest. Rather, his comments are directed towards the opponents of what they describe as a ‘tampon tax’; Collectively, they seem to have scant or non-existent understanding of statistics, massage data shamelessly to support an otherwise unsupportable assertion, are too idle to research statistics and blindly copy headlines from other sources, and then conflate the data with unrelated matters which nevertheless support their agenda.

By tampon tax, they refer to VAT on these items, which has already been reduced to the minimum 5%permitted under current EU regulations. Thus (remoaners note) the government is powerless to change this before Brexit (and maybe not even then).

The topic was brought to prominence by MP Danielle Rowley, who claimed that the average cost to a woman for periods was £500 per year, or £41 per month, and which Grumpy reported on in a prior post. Tesco’s cheapest tampons sell at 24 for £0.95, i.e. 4p each, so £41 could buy 1025 tampons. Assuming the length of a period was at the top end 5 days (Wikipedia quotes 3 to 5 days), and assuming the woman was awake for 16 hours, that would equate to a usage of 205 per day, or over 12 per waking hour – a change every 5 minutes. Even with Grumpy’s limited experience of the fair sex, this would intuitively seem not to tie with observation, and hence would (as any physicist would tell you) ring warning bells.

The topic has again arisen, this time with even more bizarre claims, not unsurprisingly in that liberal journal where the lack of fact checking (or deliberate obfuscation) has been raised to an art form – the Guardian. (Amika George 08.01.2019)

The data in her article came from Plan International UK (PI) where statistics and survey sampling does not appear to be their forte. They claim, or example that “42% of UK girls have had to use makeshift period products because they struggle to afford menstrual products”. As Grumpy has pointed out before, such statistics are immediately suspect because they are inconsistent with far more highly researched and reliable data, such as mobile phone usage. Given the above, the simple fact is that a significant proportion of the girls who struggled to buy menstrual products must own smart phones. Is this anyway credible? That someone who could not afford a 4p tampon could afford a smart phone ? The alternative is that they prioritise having access to Tinder over having to have a sock in their pants.

Grumpy has dug deeper into the various published reports by PI and others to try and find an answer to the contradictions implied, and they have proved interesting. As PI noted, the issue got raised to recent prominence in the media because of a case of a schoolgirl using a sock as a pad because her single mother could not afford to buy sanitary items. This was a girl, then aged 11, who stated this in a radio interview in Leeds in 2017. The fact, that PI presumably is well aware of, is that a sample size of 1 has NO statistical significance, and yet they included it in a survey document. As ever, those wishing to amplify their points always look to exceptions and rarities (‘tails’ of distributions, as a stats person would call them), but this’Black Swan’ has now been elevated to folk law.

The PI document “Because I am a girl”, published in January 2018, does give some information on the data used to compile this report, and feed the ‘period poverty’ story. Appendix 2 lists information about the data sources; they were 64 (yes, sixty four) young people including 56 females. So PI took a highly unrepresentative sample of 56 young women and then scaled their responses up to the 3.7 million or so of that age group in the UK. (remember the unqualified headline “one in ten girls or women aged 14 to 21 in Britain..”) This is worthless as a piece of serious research, and is engineered to give pseudo-quantitative backing to their agenda.

Finally, a little more evidence on the bizarre cost estimates associated with periods came out of a survey of 2134 women published by the Huff Post (who ought to know better), and conducted by VoucherCodes Pro, a discount shopping outfit (Huh??). They estimate the cost at £492 annually, which is maybe where Danielle Rowley got her £500 number from. It throws some light on the bizarre 200 – 350 tampons used a day number derived from this figure.

It tuned out that the actual cost of tampons used was nowhere near this, and was £13 on average. (Even so, with the more expensive Tesco tampons at 10p each, this would still be 26 per day, which seems high). But the headline figure of £492, or £41 per month, had an interesting breakdown; £4,50 went to pain relief; £8 for new underwear (5 pairs with a M&S multipack ) . But, hold the phone – it also included £8.50 extra on chocolate relating to having a period (what ?) and £7 on “DVD’s etc” (for soothing music ??). This a simply outrageous liberty to take with survey data. It is shameless inflating of facts to make a political point, which is then dumbly picked up by the tabloids and MP’s and (in the latter case) used to further their agendas. Can it be believed that someone would rather bleed in their pants than forego a Mars Bar ?

Back to the Guardian. Amika George, their contributor, has a website which includes a page headed “facts”. She states that “40% of girls in the UK have used toilet roll because they couldn’t afford menstrual products” (presumably, they bought too much chocolate).

This is pure unadulterated moonshine with no sound or credible basis and it flies in the face of UK demographics.. The sad thing about all the people involved is that they do have have a perfectly valid point, but which they then cannot resist amplifying and embellishing by amateurish, and Grumpy suspects, deliberate, distortion. It’s a shame, wholly pointless, and destroys the very argument that they wish to promulgate.