In March last year, then Prime Minister David Cameron announced to Parliament that the 5% VAT levy on period-related products — the “tampon tax” — would soon come to an end. Parliament was told the European Commission would allow countries to extend zero rates on VAT, and more generally to have more autonomy over the VAT applied to individual products and services.
The European Court of Justice has been called upon numerous times to clarify the rules about individual, esoteric products and services — such as whether or not coin-operated booths in a Bruges sex shop counted as a cinema. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer George “Six Jobs” Osborne tried to “soften the blow” of the short-term continuation of the sanitary product tax by pledging to spend it on women’s charities. This was amazingly tone deaf: why should women’s charities be funded by a tax on people with wombs, rather than the general population?
The issue of the tampon tax has come back into the news for two reasons. First, it emerged that £250,000 of the £12 million tampon tax revenue had been distributed to the anti-abortion charity Life. Life state that the money will be used to support vulnerable women with services such as “non-directive counselling” and housing.
How likely is the “non-directive” in “non-directive counselling”, when their mission statement says that they “won’t give up” until “abortion is a thing of the past”? When Life’s campaigning arm says they believe that human life begins at fertilisation? Undercover researchers have found that they have given misleading and wrong information to pregnant women regarding a supposed link between breast cancer and abortion, and telling them that after taking a medical abortion pill that they will have to dispose of “the corpse”.
Second, there have been an increasing number of young women and girls not attending school as they cannot afford sanitary products and do not want to ask their parent(s) or carer(s) for the money, as they know they cannot really afford it. This has been attested to by police officers who work in schools, and the young people themselves.
An 11-year-old pupil told Radio Leeds, “I wrapped a sock around my underwear just to stop the bleeding, because I didn’t want to get shouted at… I once Sellotaped tissue to my underwear. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t get any money because my mum was a single parent and she had five mouths to feed, so there wasn’t much leftover money in the pot to be giving to us.”
Leeds MP Greg Mulholland raised this issue in Parliament and Education Secretary Justine Greening said she would “look carefully” at the issue. Not only should period-managing items not be taxed, they should be collectively produced and free! No one should be making a profit out of a basic biological function, especially one that mostly affects women, who get paid less anyway!