We need tax-free tampons – period

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love a Jaffa Cake. I love a whole packet of them even more. Give me a pitta bread and a pot of hummus and I am in heaven. Any other day of the year if you told me that pitta breads and Jaffa cakes are zero-taxed items, I’d take it as a valid reason to buy as many Jaffa cakes as I can carry home and spend the evening eating myself into a carb-coma. Last week however, MPs voted on whether or not to scrap the current 5% VAT on women’s sanitary products. Women are currently taxed the luxury VAT rate for tampons. This means, under the UKs current Finance Bill, we are taxed more to have a period than we are for buying biscuits (we will discuss whether Jaffa cakes are really a biscuit or a cake another time).

Ask anyone who has ever had a period and I guarantee you, unless they are violently allergic to Jaffa cakes, they will consider eating a Jaffa cake to be a far more luxurious experience than spending the average of one week of every month for the majority of their life having periods. And having that many periods is pricey without the added ‘luxury’ VAT. Based on the average number of sanitary towels a woman would need per period, each period costs a woman at least £3.75. Turn that into the average 39 years of periods women go through, the average woman would be spending a minimum of £1,755 on tampons or towels throughout her life.

Over one and a half grand is A LOT of money for women to be spending on a necessity product. And yet, we are made to pay for tampons and towels as luxury items. Now. When was the last time you thought, ‘Holy shit?! I forgot to get in a sewer cleaning service! I really need that right now.’ Or how about the last time you were going about your daily business and it suddenly dawned on you that ‘Crap?! I totally need some exotic meat in my life right now’. Chances are it’s never been necessary to your wellbeing or your hygiene that you have access to these things. But guess what? There is absolutely zero tax on either. Nor is there tax attached to flapjacks, herbal tea or bingo. So right now, having a period is taxed more highly than buying an ostrich burger.

A woman cannot switch off her uterus. She cannot stop having periods to save money. Periods are a necessary evil that women have no choice but to live with. They are not a luxury. I can choose to buy Jaffa cakes whenever I please. That is a luxury, because having choice is a luxury. So today when MPs were given the opportunity to force negotiations with the EU to reduce the 5% VAT rate on sanitary products (the VAT rate is the lowest allowed under EU law), what happened? Did our MPs decide that women’s sanitary products are as much of a necessity as an evening of bingo? Were they compelled to make tampons as essential as the pitta bread in your Saturday night kebab? HA.

The proposed amendment to the Finance Bill was rejected by 305 to 287 votes. In response to the proposal’s rejection, the financial secretary to the Treasurer said that the tampon tax would be raised as an issue with the European Commissioner. So the issue of tampons being taxed as a luxury is going to be raised to the EU. A step in the right direction? Yes. However, the proposed scrapping of luxury VAT on women’s sanitary products was still opposed by a majority of the MPs who voted. And some of them were women.

YEP. Some women with the power to change the luxury tax actually opposed scrapping it. I don’t get it either.

No woman has ever said to herself, ‘hmm, I’ll treat myself to a cheeky pack of sanitary towels’ or, ‘hey, you know what? Those tampons are a really cute colour. Oh what the hell, I’ll have them!’ BUYING THEM IS NOT A CHOICE. It’s time to stop charging us as though it is and it’s time to start treating periods like Jaffa cakes.

Last modified: 2nd November 2015

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