Over 100 experts have signed an open letter arguing that women’s organisations should benefit from the tampon tax.
Way back in November 2015, then-chancellor George Osborne announced that the 5% VAT charged on women’s sanitary products – aka the tampon tax – would be used “to fund women’s health and support charities” in the UK. David Cameron’s right-hand man undoubtedly hoped the move would be welcomed by feminist campaigners, but his scheme proved controversial. Many argued that the government should already be properly funding vital women’s services such as domestic abuse refuges, rather than relying on money gathered through a sexist tax on women.
In the years since, the Tampon Tax Fund – as it has been dubbed by the government – has been dogged by controversy. Two years ago, it emerged that £250,000 from the fund was being donated to an anti-abortion charity. And now, more than 100 experts have written an open letter arguing that the fund is failing to support women-only organisations, despite Osborne’s original pledge.
More than 100 women, including academics and representatives of women’s charities, have signed the letter to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. They point out that of the 10 charities chosen to benefit from the Tampon Tax Fund in 2019, only one – Southall Black Sisters – is an organisation focusing specifically on women’s needs.
The letter was coordinated by the Women’s Resource Centre (WRC), an umbrella group for the struggling women’s charity sector in the UK.
“We are acutely aware that the establishment of this fund was explicitly designed for women’s charities – in November 2015 George Osborne said it was for ‘women’s health and support charities’,” the letter reads.
It continues: “It is therefore gravely disappointing to us that a fund established specifically for women’s charities is failing quite significantly to deliver on that promise. We urge you to address this as a matter of urgency by ringfencing this fund for women’s charities.”
This year’s beneficiaries of the Tampon Tax Fund were announced at the end of March. Crucially, the money is still being donated to charities running important projects for women, even though it has not been allocated to specialist women’s organisations. The homelessness charity Crisis UK, for example, has been given over £1.1m to help homeless women who have survived modern slavery rebuild their lives. The Scottish organisation Sacro received the same amount to provide support and advice to sex workers.
These important projects are obviously deserving of funding and support. However, the signatories of the open letter say they are concerned that “larger generic organisations” are being granted funding over smaller, grassroots charities that dedicate all their work to women’s issues.
“It seems that the government thinks that large charities are the best option which is actually completely incorrect,” Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of WRC, told The Guardian.
“Research shows that the women who need support services consistently say they want to go to all women’s organisations who understand their needs and look like them.
“We do things differently and we do things better but the sector is not getting the money, either from central government or local authorities.”
Many of the groups that have received funding thanks to the tampon tax are doing vital work. But the funding available for specialist women’s organisations has been reduced dramatically over the last decade. If we have to pay the tampon tax, it doesn’t seem too much to ask that more than one women’s charity benefits as a result.
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