Guess what lads? It’s good news for our purses AND our vaginas as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced last week that the ‘tampon tax’ will finally be abolished.
The tampon tax, for the uninitiated, is a 5% VAT charge placed on items deemed ‘luxury’ or ‘non-essential’. You know, all those silly little cotton things us girls buy, that only stem the monthly flow of blood from our uteruses, enabling us to go to work without staining office chairs and stuff like that. Sweet luxury!
It’s been a long old road to get here (and by ‘here’, I mean January 2021, when the tax will actually be abolished), given that women started to campaign against the tax over 20 years ago. Initially set at a hideous 17.5%, Labour MP Dawn Primarolo successfully got it reduced down to 5% – but that’s still 5% more than we should have had to pay.
In 2014 student Laura Coryton, launched the Stop Taxing Periods campaign, which amassed 320,000 signatures and led to a budget amendment by Labour MP Paula Sherriff. The amendment was successfully passed in March 2016, but because we are bound by EU rules and no member states can revise VAT allocations without the EU’s permission, this has meant we can’t lose the tax until we officially leave the EU on the 31st December 2020 (sob).
After an outcry from many (you guessed it) women, in 2015 the tampon tax was turned into the Tampon Tax Fund, which the government promised to distribute among ‘projects that improve the lives of disadvantaged women and girls’. It was then discovered that the organisations that were receiving these funds included Life, an anti-abortion charity.
As well as opposing abortion and therefore womxn’s abilities to make decisions about what happens with their own bodies, Life also opposed the expansion of sex education in primary schools. As Diana Johnson, another Labour MP (is it just me or are they the only ones getting things done around here?), put it: “This money would be much better spent on women’s organisations which truly reflect the values of this fund to empower and support women to make decisions about their lives, rather than an organisation that actively promotes restricting women’s choices.”
It’s currently unclear if the fund will continue once the tax has been abolished, but campaigners are calling on the government to continue investing in organisations that are working to help women. As the fund was only created a few years ago, there’s an estimated £700 million that had already been paid in ‘tampon taxes’ before it was set up, which the CEO of Plan International UK, Rose Caldwell, said it was ‘only fair’ to give to life saving women’s charities.
In case, like me, you were wondering what our government does deem ‘essential’, I had a little look. Alcoholic jelly. Playing bingo. Helicopters. Exotic meats. Caravans. Betting. Jaffa cakes. Antiques. Lottery tickets. Private jet maintenance. Look, I can and will eat an entire packet of jaffa cakes without stopping to breathe, but I don’t know if I would classify any of these things as ‘useful’, let alone ‘essential’. Period poverty is still a very real issue in the UK, with 10% of young girls aged 14-21 unable to afford the products they need.
To dive a little deeper, the items that fall under the same ‘health’ categorisation as sanitary items include low vision aids and incontinence products. Both have a 0% VAT rate, whilst maternity pads and sanitary protection are set at 5%. It’s almost as if all of these decisions were made by people that could not become pregnant, or have periods. Oh, wait…
So there we have it; the world is still an unequal, shitty place, where women continue to earn less and pay more. But what about those ‘tampon tax’ savings? Well, it’s estimated that over the course of her lifetime, the average woman will save around £40, which roughly translates to 500 Jaffa cakes. See you later, I’m off to Tesco.