More Brexit nonsense, this time over the tampon tax

The EU and UK flags and a tampon
Steve Topple

On Saturday 7 March, Sky News reported that the government was set to scrap the so-called ‘tampon tax’. It said that new chancellor Rishi Sunak was going to abolish VAT on sanitary products in his upcoming budget. But Sky News said it was because of Brexit, when actually this isn’t strictly the whole story.

Period poverty

Period poverty is when girls and women can’t afford sanitary products. As the website Global Women Connected noted, it’s a major issue across the UK. This is because:

  • “1 in 10 girls aged 14 to 21 can’t afford menstrual products”.
  • “Half of all schoolgirls miss a full day of school because of their period”.
  • “The average UK woman will spend more than £18,000 on periods over her lifetime”.

In England, the Tory government recently rolled out a scheme for free sanitary products in schools. The Department for Education (DfE) will fund it. But as The Canary previously reported, many people gave the new deal a lukewarm response. This is because schools have to opt-in. Also, it doesn’t address the period poverty women above state-education age face.

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VAT on sanitary products is a factor in period poverty. It’s sometimes referred to as the ‘Tampon Tax’. Currently, the government sets the rate at 5%. But now it looks set to abolish this altogether.

Brexit nonsense?

As Sky News tweeted:

People on Twitter welcomed the move:

While others pointed out that the sanitary products industry is, really, a bit of a scam:

Some people were hailing the policy shift as a victory over the EU:

But in reality, if the UK had stayed in the EU, the government would have been able to scrap the tampon tax anyway.

Currently, EU guidelines state that sanitary products VAT has to be at a minimum of 5%. It was former chancellor Gordon Brown who reduced the VAT rate to this in 2001. But recently, the European Commission approved regulation to allow member states to reduce VAT on sanitary products to 0%. As one person on Twitter pointed out:

So, the chances are that Brexit or no Brexit, the UK government could still have scrapped the tampon tax.

But even with this, the UK government is still lagging way behind what Scotland is doing.

Scotland leading the way

As The Canary previously reported, the Scottish government already gives some funding to councils. This is to provide free sanitary products in some schools and public buildings. Scottish parliament buildings also offer the same service. But now, Labour MSP Monica Lennon has tabled the Period Products (Free Provision) bill in Holyrood. It calls for universal free sanitary products across the country.

At first, the SNP-led Holyrood government didn’t support it. But it changed course in February this year, and the bill has now passed stage one in the Scottish parliament.

So, while the abolition of the tampon tax is to be welcomed, all is not quite what it seems. And moreover, the Westminster government should be following Scotland’s lead in pushing for a world-leading policy. But from the Tories, that may be too much to ask. Which leaves women, through no fault of their own, still paying the cost for something essential.

Featured image via George Hodan – PublicDomainPictures and Wikimedia

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  • Show Comments
    1. This never used to be a problem and shows just how far Britain has regressed under neo-liberalism.

      When I was at secondary school from the early- to mid-70s there was a newsagent’s shop near our school, and he would open packs of towels and sell them individually very cheap, about 10p each, so the girls could buy one or two for the day. Nowadays it’s likely that not only do laws prevent individual retail like that, but it’s probable a lot of girls wouldn’t always have the 10p. That’s how far this country has fallen.

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