It’s not just tampons, our entire tax system is stacked against women

Support us and go ad-free

The ‘tampon tax’, which effectively taxes women for having uteruses, may soon be relegated to history, where it belongs. But our entire approach to taxation still discriminates against women in subtler ways – with devastating results.

Whilst incontinence pads, helicopters and crocodile steaks are all exempt from VAT, tampons and sanitary towels are classed as “non-essential luxury items” and are subject to a 5% tax. The public has been loudly objecting to this ridiculous state of affairs for quite a while. This week, some Tories finally seemed to get the message, and the European Commission signalled it may let Britain scrap the tax.

This tax only exists today because it was set in stone in the 1970s – at a time when the Inland Revenue still refused to correspond with married women and insisted on sending their repayments to their husbands.

We’ve come a long way since then, but not far enough.

Today, women are still disproportionately penalised by a whole raft of taxation policies – especially since the financial crisis. These policies are largely assumed to be ‘gender neutral’ by those who create them, but this damaging assumption ignores the reality that men and women still play very different roles in the economic world.

Women are, on average, paid less than men. They are more likely to be in low paid jobs. They are more likely to experience in-work poverty and persistent poverty.

As such, each time Osborne raises the personal tax allowance (the threshold at which people start paying income tax), far fewer women than men benefit. The poorest workers, the majority of them women, are already under the threshold. After the 2014 Budget, the Women’s Budget Group estimated that the UK’s 21 million poorest workers would see no benefit from the new threshold – and that 63% of them were women.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Just as women are overrepresented among the poor, men are overrepresented among the very wealthy. Osborne’s tax breaks for the rich – including cutting the rate of income tax for top earners – benefit many more men than women.

Both of these measures are enormously expensive, losing the government revenue that has to be found elsewhere. Some of that revenue has come from the hike in the VAT rate – a tax on consumption that hits low income households and women hardest, as they both spend a larger proportion of their incomes on household expenditure. Osborne, incidentally, announced the VAT hike not long after the 2010 election, despite Cameron’s pre-election promises that he had “absolutely no plans to raise VAT” – foreshadowing the broken promises on tax credits, which will also disproportionately affect women.

But it’s the UK’s approach to deficit reduction that really hammers women. Instead of increasing taxation, the coalition and then Conservative governments chose to reduce public spending. The impact of this on women has been devastating.

Under austerity, women have been hit by what the Fawcett Society calls the triple jeopardy: they are hit hardest by public sector job losses, benefit cuts, and the loss of services.

Meanwhile, as public services collapse, the primary carers of children, the sick and the elderly (disproportionately women) have to take on more unpaid work to fill the vacuum.

Overall, Osborne’s “lower welfare, lower tax” approach, which we’re hearing so much about at the moment, has hit women four times harder than men. And, A Fair Deal for Women calculates that, since 2010, men have contributed 21% to the deficit reduction effort while women contributed 79%.

So let’s celebrate the news that the ‘tampon tax’ may finally be relegated to history. But if we want a tax system which promotes equality rather than entrenching inequality, we need to go much, much further.

Featured image via me and the sysop/Flickr

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us

Comments are closed