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Friday 15th November 2019

A taxing problem: Why are we still paying tampon tax?

Tampon Tax
Contrary to (un)popular belief, we can't just cross our legs and make it go away...

A little while ago, Mouthy Money’s Scottish sensation Maddy Sutherland wrote a brilliant article about the ‘pink tax’ (if you haven’t read it, go and read it now, then come back to this article – I’ll wait). Maddy’s article burrowed its way in to my brain and I kept thinking about it – women are charged more for what are essentially unisex products that are pink. Crazy! Her article also mentioned the gender pay gap (which I have written about previously) and tampon tax. ‘Ha!’ I thought, ‘Tampon tax is soooo last year! George Osborne said that was getting scrapped months ago!’ then I carried on with my day.

But Maddy’s article was still in my head…

So, I googled ‘tampon tax’, and what did I find? Yes, the dark lord Osborne had indeed said that it would be scrapped back in March. Following a proposal by the awesome Labour MP Paula Sherriff, the government had won EU backing to scrap the 5% VAT charged for women’s sanitary products. Back in the good old days of March, we ladies were assured that we could menstruate in tax-free peace. It made the news. Osborne was the new Germaine Greer! However, what has flown slightly under the radar is that, due to Brexit ‘complications’, sanitary products may still be taxed until April 2018. Huh? My periods are going to be taxed for another 18 months still? Not cool.

Back in the good old days of March, we ladies were assured that we could menstruate in tax-free peace.

The tampon tax has been back in the news recently, as some guy who got a modicum of attention during the Brexit campaign has said that it’s justified and that women should pay tax if they can’t ‘hold their bladders’ (I have a whole lot to say about this douchecanoe, which you can read here if you’re interested). Funnily enough, I just found out, when researching this article, that incontinence products are charged at zero VAT anyway. We would actually be better off if periods did come about because we can’t hold our bladders – who knew?

In the UK, sanitary products are taxed as a ‘luxury item’. This kind of tax refers to products or services deemed to be unnecessary or non-essential (definition taken from Investopedia). Now, I don’t know if the person who decided sanitary products were a luxury had ever had a period, but I’d say the products are fairly essential. Spoiler alert: you can’t just hold your bladder… so really we are taxed for being female, and it sucks! I have heard people argue that men-only essential products are also taxed, so it’s an even playing field. But it’s not really. If a man can’t afford condoms (for example), or refuses to pay the tax, he can find other methods of contraception. Or he can visit the sexual health clinic – those nurses will literally throw free condoms at you (well, not literally, that would be highly unprofessional…). Or, if he is really desperate, he could just not have sex. Harsh, but true.

You may be of the opinion that we should think ourselves lucky; back in the dark ages of 2000, we were paying a massive 17.5% VAT on our sanitary products.

Women who have periods don’t have that choice because periods just happen. Sadly, we are not yet at a point where we can mutter a magical incantation and find ourselves sans mensies, more’s the pity! This ‘luxury’ is something only women need, only women are taxed on, and only women can’t do without. Just when there was light at the end of the tunnel, Brexit turned the tables on us. This is the very same Brexit that argued that only through leaving the EU could we abolish the tampon tax – and now, instead, it will actually last much longer than originally intended. Oh, the irony.

Now, you may be of the opinion that we should think ourselves lucky; back in the dark ages of 2000, we were not only breathing a sigh of relief that the millennium bug hadn’t caused the computers to rise up against us, but we were also paying a massive 17.5% VAT on our sanitary products. The problem is, even though 5% is pretty low, other products such as microwave popcorn, razor blades, airships, and antiques all boast no VAT. I’ll let you drink that in; you can buy a blimp VAT free, but your luxurious Bodyform maxi pads have an extra 5% on them. It isn’t fair. And it’s even less fair to know that the government agrees that it’s not fair, but can’t do anything about it until 2018.

Now hand me the VAT free Jaffa Cakes, I need to cheer myself up!

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Rosie Earl

Rosie Earl

Uber-geek and tv addict. Keen writer and professional trainer in the financial sector. Rubbish at maths

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