Since the 1st January 2021, “tampon tax” no longer exists in the UK.
Before this change, the tampon tax meant that 5% VAT was charged on all sanitary products. Since 1973, the UK has been subject to five different rates of VAT, courtesy of the EU VAT Directive. However, since leaving the EU, the Government is no longer subject to such Directive and has capitalised on this opportunity.
Why is this important?
Period products should be free for all. Why? Because roughly 51% of the population are financially disadvantaged due to the natural phenomenon of menstruation. Menstruation is not a choice. Having to pay for sanitary products, which up until now have also been heavily taxed, is unacceptable.
The consequence? Period poverty.
As described by Bodyform, ‘period poverty’ means being unable to access sanitary products and having a poor knowledge of menstruation often due to financial constraints. The consequences of period poverty can be far reaching. Not only are womxn and girls vulnerable to health conditions caused by menstrual hygiene issues which would otherwise be avoidable, but Plan International UK found 137,700 children in the UK miss school because of period poverty each year.2
Period poverty is a symptom of sexism, as is the taxation of sanitary products. This has been noted by tampon tax activist Laura Coryton, who argues that this issue is “about ending a symptom of sexism".
For years, sanitary products have been portrayed as “luxury items”, rather than essential. These “luxury items” are costing women and girls up to £8 a month according to the BBC. In fact, research by Plan International UK, involving a survey of 1,000 girls and young women aged 14-21 in the UK, found that 1 in 10 girls cannot afford to buy menstrual products. 1 in 7 have struggled to afford them.
It is clear that scrapping taxation, and thus reducing the prices of period products, is a significant step in the direction of ending period poverty and tackling sexism. However, it is not enough.
In November 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to make sanitary products FREE. Through the enactment of the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, Scotland has assigned a legal duty upon local authorities to provide free tampons and sanitary pads to "anyone who needs them”.
Menstrual hygiene is a right, not a privilege. Until England follows suit, recognising sanitary products as necessities that should be free for all who need them, womxn and girls will continue to be financially disadvantaged by their biology.