How To Enjoy Your Period

The Abolishment of the UK’s Tampon Tax

As of the 1st of January 2021, the UK government has gotten rid of the tax on tampons. This is part of a wider government plan in which they have pledged to do more to end period poverty in the UK. They hope to achieve this in a number of ways; mainly, however, by making sanitary products available in schools, colleges and hospitals free of charge. Tampons were previously seen as a ‘luxury item’, an arguably misogynistic label that some feminists argue, suggests that menstruation is a choice. 

 

This was made possible by the UK’s break from the EU, as the EU classifies tampons as non-essential items and therefore requires tax. Chancellor Rishi Sunak commented on the change, stating ‘sanitary products are essential, so it is right that we don’t charge VAT’. The scrapping of the tax will save the average woman £40 in her lifetime, reducing the cost of tampons by roughly 7p on a pack of 20, and 5p on a pack of 12 pads. Women will spend around £4800 on sanitary products in their lives. 

 

The tax was heavily contested by the ‘Stop Taxing Periods’ campaign, founded by student Laura Coryton in 2014, whose change.org petition amassed over 320,000 signatures. Coryton suggests the absurdity of certain tax-exempt products under EU laws, which include alcoholic jellies and helicopters, both of which are evidently non-essential items, arguing ‘Periods are not a luxury…you cannot choose to menstruate’ and that this was, 'about ending a symptom of sexism’. She highlights the dangers and health risks of the inaccessibility of period products, they can prevent people from leading normal professional and personal lives.  She began this campaign in order to 'challenge the negative message that this tax sent to society about women’ (BBC, 2021). 

 

The Tampon Tax Fund was introduced by the government in 2015, where the funds generated from the 5% VAT on sanitary products were donated to projects that support vulnerable women and girls.  Nevertheless, the fund came under criticism when it was revealed in 2017 that a portion of this was being donated to anti-abortion charities. 

 

Activists have been campaigning for decades to scrap the tax; tampons were previously taxed by 17.5%. This was cut down by Labour MP Dawn Primarolo 20 years ago, however, the EU’s rules on VAT prevented the UK from dropping the tax any further.  Despite the UK’s supposed inability to reduce the tax on tampons, British Non-profit ‘Free Periods’, founded by Gemma Abbot, begun a campaign in 2019 to hold the government accountable for Tampon Tax. They threatened the government with legal action, arguing that the lack of access to menstrual products at schools can ruin girl’s experiences.