Period poverty has affected more than a quarter of females, forcing them to miss either work or school, a new survey has revealed.
While it had been previously thought the problem had affected one in 10 women, new research revealed that 27% of females have at times been unable to afford sanitary products.
More than half of the UK population (51%) have suffered from the problem, or know someone who has, the research indicated, with more than two-thirds of women (68%) having been forced to use makeshift menstrual protection at some point.
The survey, carried out for a project set up to combat period poverty, also found such problems had caused 26% of girls and women to miss either school or work.
A total of 931 people across England, Scotland and Wales were questioned for the research, which was carried out by Ginger Comms together with campaigners at the Bloody Big Brunch.
It organises brunch events across the country, where participants pay not with money but by donating sanitary products in a bid to put the issue of period poverty "firmly on the table" by not only reducing embarrassment around periods, but also by making it easy to send menstrual products to where they are needed most.
Its largest ever campaign day is due to take place on Sunday March 3, with singer and TV presenter Stacey Solomon among those who will be hosting a brunch event.
She said: “I am so excited that the Bloody Big Brunch has gone national. It’s a hugely important issue and this is an easy way for people to get involved.
"The seemingly small step of hosting a brunch has the power to make a big difference and I’m looking forward to playing my part.”
In January, the Scottish Government announced £4 million of cash for local councils to provide free sanitary items in public buildings, following a trial scheme where these were provided in schools, colleges and universities.
Meanwhile, the Welsh Government has announced £1 million of funding to tackle period poverty, resulting in campaigners claiming England is being “left behind”.
Amika George, who started the Free Periods campaign, said they are taking legal action against the UK Government.
“The Scottish and Welsh governments have made history with their pledges of period provision for girls in schools, colleges and universities, but in England we’re being left behind.
“That’s why we are taking legal action against the government, to ensure every schoolchild gets access to the essential products that they need.
“Equal access to education is a fundamental human right and no-one should miss school because they cannot afford pads and tampons."
Almost two-thirds (65%) of people believe sanitary products should be available free of charge for all females, the survey found, while 84% think these should be freely available in schools and colleges.
Lee Beattie, of the Bloody Big Brunch, said: “As a society we need to send out the message that menstruation isn’t dirty and it certainly isn’t a luxury.
“By using fun to highlight fundamental rights, we’re hoping we can mobilise Westminster, who have been negligent on the issue of periods for far too long.”
Jo Jones co-founded Beauty Banks, a social enterprise providing everyday essentials like toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, tampons and sanitary towels, to try help tackle the growing problem.
"If you have to choose between feeding your family or having soap, shower gel and sanitary towels you're obviously going to choose food," she told ITV News.
"We want to be part of a solution for hygiene poverty and period poverty."
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Through the Tampon Tax Fund, £1.68 million has been made available to help distribute sanitary products to young women and girls in need across England.
“Our guidance encourages schools to help girls cope with menstruation and we are providing more than £2.4 billion pupil premium this year to support schools in meeting the needs of disadvantaged pupils.
"Whilst our current analysis shows there is no evidence that period poverty has a significant nationwide impact on school attendance, we are continuing to look into this sensitive issue and schools can make sanitary products available if they identify access to products as a barrier to girls attending school.”
Lucy Russell, of children’s charity Plan International UK, said: “It’s simply unacceptable that in 21st-century Britain, women and girls are suffering because they don’t have enough money to manage their period.
“We know from our own research that two-fifths of girls have been forced to rely on toilet roll at some point because they’ve struggled to afford menstrual products.
“We fully support the call for free and accessible menstrual products where women and girls are struggling with the cost of managing their period, but this will only solve part of a very complex problem.”