After 57 years of having a so-called ‘tampon tax’, the government has scrapped VAT on period products. But one charity is asking what will now happen to the Tampon Tax Fund?
Updated by Stylist’s Kayleigh Dray on 11 March 2020: We have been paying tax on period products – considered ‘luxury goods’ – for over 50 years.
The tampon tax was first introduced in 1973 at a mind-boggling rate of 17.5%. This was reduced to the slightly more palatable (but still utterly unfair) 5% in 2001, thanks to MP Dawn Primarolo’s tireless campaigning.
Since then, campaigners have (rightfully) put pressure of the government to scrap the tax altogether. And now, at long last, they have done so.
That’s right: the Chancellor of the Exchequer has scrapped the tax on sanitary products in The Budget. It’s a move estimated to save the average woman nearly £40 over her lifetime, thanks to a cut of 7p on a pack of 20 tampons and 5p on 12 pads.
Somewhat disappointingly, though, the new ruling is not set to come into force until January 2021.
Responding to the news, Vivienne Hayes – chief executive of the Women’s Resource Centre charity – said: “We are over the moon to learn of this news, tampons and sanitary towels were never luxury items and should never have been subject to VAT. Congratulations to all the women who campaigned so long for this ridiculous and unfair tax to be removed.”
However, she added: “We are concerned that the Tampon Tax Fund will now be abandoned by the Government and we hope to see a replacement fund for women’s health and support charities announced in the near future.”
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals advocate and Co-Founder of social impact enterprise The World We Want, Natasha Mudhar, echoed this sentiment.
“This is news to be celebrated and marks an important step towards removing barriers which impact girls and women from unlocking their full potential and achieving their rights especially when access to sanitary products is a basic human right. As of 2021 we are going to see sanitary products become much more accessible with the removal of affordability issues – something campaign groups and politicians have been fighting towards for such a long time. This is going to empower millions.
“The impact of product inaccessibility and period poverty goes beyond being an issue of gender inequality. It was reported this year that 49% of girls have missed a day of school due to periods and one in ten women aged 14 to 21 are not able to afford period products. As many as 40% of girls in the UK have used toilet roll because they cannot afford menstrual products and 68% felt less able to pay attention at school or college while menstruating. When we look at the impact of period poverty, it stands to represent major barriers beyond equal rights, with detriment to the education and career development for women and girls. This was never simply an issue of ‘why should we have to pay tax on these products, how unfair’ but more the fact some women were completely limited because they couldn’t afford to.
“We should all support this measure by Rishi Sunak and use it as a springboard to further abolish the critical barriers facing true girl and woman empowerment in the UK. Now that we are dealing with the issue of accessibility, now it’s time to turn our attention towards destroying the stigmas that are still linked to menstruation. Whilst this is a monumental announcement in the UK, we are still a way off from completely freeing women and girls from the negative taboo of menstruation.”
As reported on 7 March: Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to declare that the 5% VAT will end at the start of the new year, when the UK leaves the European Union. Under current EU laws, member states cannot reduce the tax rate below this, as sanitary products are classed as luxury items. On average, it is expected that the tax cut will save each woman £40 over her lifetime. This is thanks to a typical 7p reduction on a pack of 20 tampons and a 5p reduction on a pack of 12 pads.
Laura Coryton, who started the Stop Taxing Periods campaign in May 2014, responded to the news, saying: “The end of this tax symbolises the end of a symptom of sexism and the period taboo, which has created period poverty and has stopped girls from going to school. I’m so happy that all 320,000 people who signed my petition, as well as the many generations who have campaigned against this tax, have finally been listened to.”
In the Conservative’s 2015 manifesto, they pledged to redistribute the money collected from VAT on period products to women’s charities. But some women’s organisations have criticised the way this has been handled, as much of the £62m Tampon Tax Fund was allocated to large charities and housing associations without a vested interest in women’s issues (including an anti-abortion group), leaving the specialist organisations struggling with finances.
But one charity is now asking is the fund will be abandoned altogether.
Responding to the news, Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of the Women’s Resource Centre charity, said: “We are over the moon to learn of this news, tampons and sanitary towels were never luxury items and should never have been subject to VAT. Congratulations to all the women who campaigned so long for this ridiculous and unfair tax to be removed.”
Hayes added: “We are concerned that the Tampon Tax Fund will now be abandoned by the government and we hope to see a replacement fund for women’s health and support charities announced in the near future.”
The announcement is expected to be made to parliament at the chancellor’s budget on Wednesday 11 March.