Abolition of the Tampon Tax: Periods are not a luxury – Liberal Article
Having been awarded the status of basic necessities, as of January 2021, sanitary products will become tax-exempt. Finally, it has been formally recognised that periods are by no means luxurious.
What a privilege, to be able to leave the house on your period!
In the UK for the last fifty years, women’s sanitary products have been taxed as a luxury along with private jet maintenance and crocodile steaks. For those who have experienced a period, this categorisation may seem confusing, wrong even. Periods are not luxurious.
The ‘tampon tax’ was either the result of a political sphere willfully ignorant to the needs of women or an economic sanction for being a woman. Regardless, it symbolised the institutional sexism of a world designed around the default male. It’s great that the tax is going, but it should never have been there in the first place.
This is not a win for the current government, nor for Brexit. This is a modest win for the ongoing movements campaigning for social justice.
The removal of the tax will take place at the end of the Brexit transition period. According to Boris Johnson, it was EU regulations that upheld the tax – this is a lie.
The truth is in 2016 an agreement was made with the EU to scrap the 5% VAT on sanitary products and that this change should have been in place by 2017. However, Brexit continues to absorb political capital in what feels like a never-ending transition period hindering any discussion other than trade deals. Brexit was, at minimum, unnecessary for this change.
And obviously the abolition of this tax was never proposed by a board room of predominantly rich men. Periods don’t cost them £500 a year. It is a result of decades of campaigning for the end of period poverty.
The initial fall in VAT from 17.5% to 5% followed a campaign led by Labour MP Dawn Primarolo twenty years ago. Since then campaigns such as Free Period and Plan International have continued to progress the movement to end period poverty.
But what is period poverty? Periods, being an oddly taboo topic, are often overlooked as a site for social injustice. Yet the inability to afford menstrual hygiene and consequently being housebound a quarter of the year is a major contribution to inequalities between the sexes.
Period poverty is a global problem and affects females to varying degrees. In developing countries girls miss on average 20% of their education, leaving them vulnerable to child marriage and the consequent social and personal problems.
Even here in the UK, nearly 50% of girls have missed school due to periods and one in ten girls can’t afford sanitary products. Yet only twenty years ago these necessities had a 17% unnecessary tax. What was that all about?
Did legislators never realise the solution is simple? Free, or at least accessible, sanitary products for all. Or maybe they were more bothered ensuring viagra was tax-free and affordable.
Due to the global variance in period poverty, eradicating it will demand different changes at national levels. However, what is happening here in the UK and around the world is all part of the same movement; menstrual hygiene to be recognised as a human right.
Period poverty is reinforcing and contributing to the multifaceted causes of economic inequality between men and women. When 75% of unpaid work is done by women, women are forced into more flexible and thus, underpaid roles. Industrial segregation is not a choice but a requirement for women. The result? 61% of those working below minimum wage are women.
Not only does the structure and norms of society mean women earn less, but also being a woman is made more costly. It’s almost like equity would require compensation, not financial penalisation.
The fact is if men had periods, or if women were equally represented in decision making bodies, periods would never have been considered a luxury and this tax would never have existed. The tax on sanitary products was a tax on being a woman.
The abolition of the tampon tax should have seen more headlines. The fact it hasn’t, shows how normalised structural sexism is and how much more progress remains. It’s not a huge change but it is significant.
The awkwardness of sneaking a tampon up your sleeve reflects the stigma around the unavoidable consequence of being female. Periods shouldn’t only be a bathroom conversation. To continue making progress periods needs to be talked about, complained about, become a topic that is not whispered.
Only half the population experience period pains, mood swings and overpriced sanitary products. But none of you would be here without them. Periods are a necessity, let’s treat them as such.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Abby Milnes
Point of Information
A step in the right direction for periods, but one that is hollow and incomplete – A Labour Response
Abi’s article is spot on! Whilst acknowledging the huge success that is the abolition of the tampon tax, she rightly establishes that to be celebrating this in 2020 is ridiculous. As argued in her article, if decisions around periods were made by people who menstruate, this change would have been enacted a long time ago.
The Chancellor’s statement, “now that we have left the EU…I will abolish the tampon tax”, is completely misleading. Taking responsibility for the scrapping of this tax when an agreement was in place in 2016, is false and immoral. Announcing the budget reform in relation to Brexit merely pushes the Conservative government’s anti-EU agenda. One might argue that it is reminiscent of Saudi Arabia’s arrests of Women2Drive activists whilst lifting the ban on female drivers.
This hollow commitment by the government is highlighted by their lack-lustre approach to the Free Periods campaign. Less than 40% of state schools and colleges have applied for the scheme, partly due to a lack of publicity on the government’s part. If the Department of Education prioritised the education of children and young adults who menstruate, this scheme would have been widely publicised and encouraged.
Period poverty in many senses is real and drastically impacts the lives of people who menstruate around the world. In the UK, 1 in 10 girls can’t afford menstrual products. Likewise, 137,000 children have missed school because of period poverty. This is unacceptable.
This inequality puts these children at greater risk. It creates a world in which failure to afford a ‘luxury’ induces shame.
Whilst it has taken more than 20 years to get to this point, there is much further to go. Throughout history, people who menstruate have been made to feel dirty, ashamed, and embarrassed about a simple bodily function. It is awful that in the UK, often boys’ (and sadly, sometimes girls’) knowledge of periods extends no further than GCSE biology lessons.
If these lessons became more commonplace and happen earlier on, I am sure people who menstruate throughout the world would be in a much safer and more secure position when it came to their periods.
I wonder whether there will be any legislation to ensure this is reflected in sanitary product prices and to prevent companies from taking advantage.
Written by Guest Labour writer, Zoë Olsen-Groome
A policy change, so long overdue, it cannot be implemented alone – A Conservative Response
Abi’s article – hitting the nail on the head – is a bitter-sweet read. How it has taken over 20 years to abolish a tax that perpetuates gender inequality so intensely is beyond me.
The UK can no longer afford to overlook Period Poverty as done so previously. Access to sanitary products (to be able to leave our homes for a quarter of the year) is a right, NOT a luxury. Directly in line with such ignorance comes the continual oppression felt by those who feel they cannot speak openly about periods in society. Our struggles are labelled unimportant, quite in the same vein as men’s mental health. Concepts both brushed under the carpet as if they never existed.
It is this exact taboo nature that has driven the existence of the Tampon Tax for so long. Tesco, Waitrose, and The Co-Op all swallowed the 5% VAT themselves in recent years as part of their CSR efforts. The fact that stereotypically immoral corporations are one-upping the state’s efforts to amend an issue affecting half of our national population speaks volumes about levels of institutional sexism in our recent governments. The tax’s abolition is of course one to be celebrated, but there is much more the government can do to support women and their cycle.
As Zoë spotlights, maximum price legislation would benefit those needing sanitary products more substantially in the long-run, preventing corporations from taking advantage of this occasion to reduce consumer surplus. In Scotland, sanitary products are now freely available in schools, universities, and colleges, mitigating the issue of accessibility for a large majority of young women – a position for England to aspire towards.
In recent times, previously taboo topics such as mental health and sexuality are now being more openly discussed. Conversations about periods should take that exact same format. Increased education and information provision on topics would go a long way to support this.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Emily Taylor
I have just graduated with a History degree from the University of Exeter and am about to start my Masters there in Conflict, Security, and Development. I will also be taking on the roles of Welfare Officer in the Politics Society and Vice-President for Coppafeel’s Exeter Uni Boob Team.
I am a first year student reading Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Exeter. After completing my degree, I wish to go on to study Public Policy at a postgraduate level.