Hygiene equality is no longer a luxury

The start of the new year has brought in the abolition of the ‘tampon tax’, a policy deemed by many to be ‘sexist’ and a perpetuation of gender equality which does not belong in today’s society – a zero rate of VAT now applies to all sanitary products in the UK. The move was finally made possible by freedom from EU law, which mandates a minimum 5% tax on all sanitary products.

Ending nearly 50 years where the UK was bound by EU rules, period products are now deemed as ‘essential’ items. The EU is in the process of following suit, but the proposals published in 2018 have still not been agreed to by all members. Laura Coryton, an activist who started the Stop Taxing Periods campaign in 2014 notes it is “frustrating that the tampon tax is being used as a political football in terms of Brexit”.

After the original motion to scrap the ‘tampon tax’ was overturned in 2015, tampons remained a ‘non-essential’ item, while more obscure products such as crocodile meat still graced the lists of ‘essential’ items. However, a positive to emerge from the rejection of the motion was the establishment of the Tampon Tax Fund which aims to donate money to projects supporting vulnerable people who menstruate.

Despite being part of 305 politicians to vote against the abolition of the tax in 2015, Rishi Sunak said: “I’m proud that we are today delivering on our promise to scrap the tampon tax. Sanitary products are essential so it’s right that we do not charge VAT”. Many other politicians joined Sunak in tweeting out their support for the policy, though they have also been exposed for originally voting against the bill.

As part of a wider government strategy to ‘End Period Poverty’, free pads and tampons are continuing to be rolled out in schools. Learners at all state-maintained schools and 16 to 19 education organisations in England have been promised continual access to the scheme in 2021. The government have a contract with Personnel Hygiene Services Limited which allows organisations to order products and have them delivered whenever they need them.   

Free Periods, a London-based campaign group, tweeted their support for the abolition of the “absurd tax”, stating the next step is to bring in “free period products, by law”. They call for action which would see England join the likes of Scotland who, in November, became the first country in the world to grant the legal right to free access to sanitary products in public buildings.

In the words of Fawcett Society Chief Executive Felicia Willow, the classification of sanitary products as non-essential or luxury items “can be consigned to the history books”. Years of campaigning and set-backs have resulted in this triumph for the sexual reproductive rights of those who menstruate.

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Dolly Carter

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October 2021
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