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Hygiene Bank launches to address ‘hidden’ poverty on the Wirral

Families from the Wirral are going without personal hygiene items such as toothpaste, nappies and tampons in order to afford food.

Toothpaste, deodorant, soap to wash our hands – these are just a few of the everyday products we use each day, without a second thought.

But what happens to those who can no longer afford to buy them?

It can be difficult for anyone to believe poverty of any kind has a place in modern Britain.  Everyone has heard of food banks, but another type of ‘hidden’ poverty is forcing families across the country to forgo basic hygiene needs to bring food to the table.

Worst of all, this particular type of poverty often goes below the radar.

Hygiene poverty is where people can’t afford basic personal toiletries.

From young girls rinsing out tampons to parents scooping out waste from nappies, hundreds of families across the Wirral will be forced to make a heart-breaking decision this Christmas:

Feed the family and kids, heat the home –  or be clean.

The Spire Church in Wallasey is one of the seven major donation points across the Wirral.

It is hard enough to accept that 1 in 5 of Merseyside’s families have experienced economic crisis – yet hygiene poverty is happening right here, on our doorstep. 

For that reason alone, one volunteer from the Wirral is doing everything in her power to ensure no family goes without the bare essentials.

Steph Fraser, a Trainee Health Care Partner and mother, lives and works on the Wirral.

As her neighbours struggled to make ends meet, she came to the realisation that she scores of families across the borough were forgoing shampoo, razors and even toilet rolls in a bid to keep their finances above water.

She got in contact with The Hygiene Bank a few months ago – a national UK charity highlighting the plight of those who can no longer afford ‘the gift of dignity’.

A donation box filled with toiletries at the Inspire Cafe in Wallasey (Credit: The Hygiene Bank Wirral)

Now, seven donation points exist across the borough, supplying hygiene products to those in crisis.

In her eyes, too many families suffer in silence.

Steph said: “When you read about poverty, you don’t think of the families that wash their hair with fairy liquid.  You don’t think about your colleagues washing in the toilets, or your classmates who never brush their teeth.

“Young girls end up missing school because they’re on their period.  Children come in with stains on their clothes.  It’s hard to imagine this could happen in this day and age – but that’s the problem with hygiene poverty.  It’s invisible.  It’s everywhere.

“When you’re struggling to make ends meet, hygiene can feel like the least of your worries. but hygiene is not a luxury.  It’s a basic human right.  Everyone has the right to good hygiene – but here on the Wirral, people are making the choice between staying fed, and staying clean.”

Since the launch of the project, stories have emerged from members of the community who have bravely shared their experiences.

“When you read about poverty, you don’t think of the families that wash their hair with fairy liquid.  You don’t think about your colleagues having a wash in the toilets, or your classmates who never brush their teeth.

…. It’s hard to imagine this could happen in this day and age – but that’s the problem with hygiene poverty.  It’s invisible.  It’s everywhere.

Steph Fraser, Leader of the Wirral Hygiene Bank project
Members of the public can enjoy a non-judgmental atmosphere at each drop off point across the Wirral.

One anonymous local teacher told Mersey Community News that they took it upon themselves to buy school uniforms after one mother received a knock-back for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

They said: “Her children started to come into school with dirty clothes. This was really unusual, because before it all started, they would always come in well kept.

“As the weeks went by, toilet rolls went missing. We found them, hidden inside their PE kits.  It broke my heart.

“Mum always made an effort. There were times when they would come in sort of clean, but their clothes were covered in washing up liquid stains.  I realised that Mum had been washing their clothes in the same water she had been using to wash her dishes – because she couldn’t afford to use her washing machine.

“I have known the family for many years and it’s clear that Mum tries her best.  She loves her children, but I think she’s faced with a decision – feed the kids, or keep them clean.”

The shame and stigma of hygiene poverty can lead people to take drastic action to improve their circumstances – yet a lack of hygiene can leave poverty victims trapped in a vicious cycle.

“Her children started to come into school with dirty clothes. This was really unusual, because before it all started, they would always come in well kept.

As the weeks went by, toilet rolls went missing. We found them, hidden inside their PE kits.  It broke my heart.”

An anonymous teacher from the Wirral recounts her pupil’s experiences with hygiene poverty.

For example, 35% of interviewers claim that they would hesitate to employ a candidate with poor hygiene – even if they had all the skills for the job.

The Hygiene Bank is currently running the ‘It’s In The Bag’ campaign, where members of the public are asked to collect every day hygiene essentials for someone in need.

This, in turn, is creating a ‘crisis of confidence’ and a melting pot for poor mental health for families on the Wirral.

For Steph, a key motivator was not only her own daughter, but the possibility that other children in her class may be struggling.

Steph said: “Something that really motivates me is the thought of children in my 4 year olds class not having access to the same products as her, like having fun in the bath in the evening or having their own toothbrush to use.”

Despite the stigma of the issue, Steph remains thankful for the support from the local community.

Steph said: “The support from the local community and neighbouring organisations has been phenomenal and the Wirral has always been a generous place. 

“It’s full of community spirit – everyone wants to help you out, and everyone sticks together. I want to give something back to them.”

“The Wirral has always been a generous place. It is full of community spirit – everyone wants to help you out, and everyone sticks together.”

Steph Fraser, leader of Wirral Hygiene Bank project.

The Hygiene Bank are calling on members of the public to put aside any excess toiletries for families in crisis.

The charity are asking for all manner of donations, from toothpaste to nappies, in a bid to give struggling families the ‘gift of dignity’.

Their latest campaign, “It’s In The Bag”, asks members of the public to fill a handbag or rucksack with bathroom essentials for males and females.

Last year, The Hygiene Bank gave out 3,558 bags out across 438 donation centres across the UK.  This year, they want to give out 5,000.

To find out more about The Hygiene Bank, visit their website at: www.thehygienebank.com

If you want to learn more about the hygiene banks on the Wirral, please visit their Facebook group to join in.

Drop off locations on the Wirral

ASDA LiscardSeaview Road, Wallasey – CH45 4NZ
Inspire Coffee BarThe Spire, Breck Road, Wallasey – CH44 3BD
The Coffee RoastVale Park, Magazine Lane, New Brighton, CH45 1LZ
Lattetude8A Dee Lane, West Kirby, Wirral – CH48 0QA
Leasowe Millennium CentreTwickenham Drive, Leasowe, Wirral, CH46 1PQ
Lloyd’s Pharmacy35 Grange Road, West Kirby, Wirral – CH48 4DZ
Wallasey Central Library17 Earlston Rd, Wallasey – CH45 5DX

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