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Why are we still taxing tampons?

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taxing pads and tampons, VAT, Menstrual hygiene is clearly not a “luxury”. Let’s stop taxing it like one.

So, last week I had my period. Instead of tearing up some rags or locking myself away to contemplate my shameful uncleanness… I bought a pack of sanitary pads.

Pretty extravagant of me, I know. Like indulging in a take-away, or buying a new jacket when the old one’s still perfectly fine. But we all need life’s little luxuries now and then, right?

If, like most sane people, you actually think tampons and sanitary towels are more like “essentials” than “luxury products”, then you’d be wrong in the eyes of current legislation in many parts of the world.

In response to campaigns to end the so-called “tampon tax”, the UK’s ‘tax collectors’ HMRC has stated that the current five per cent VAT rate is the lowest possible under EU guidelines.

HMRC categorises tampons and sanitary towels as “non-essential, luxury” items.

On the other hand, as Laura Coryton points out in her petition calling for an end to the tax on menstrual products, items ranging from edible sugar flowers to helicopters are all tax-free.

Meanwhile over in the USA, menstrual products are taxed in more states than sweets or fizzy drinks.

This is not only ridiculous, but an affront to human rights.

In many developing nations, lack of access to menstrual hygiene means many days of missed school or work, and health problems such as vaginal infection.

And as Jessica Valenti has pointed out, this is not just a problem limited to the developing world. In the US, there are reports of women resorting to selling food stamps in order to indulge in the “luxury” of tampons or pads.

In the UK, Natasha Preskey recently reported that some women are choosing to skip periods entirely, by taking the contraceptive pill without any breaks.

One interviewee told her: “I’ve asked a couple of doctors and nurses and had no clear answer on what the long-term health effects might be but, at the end of the day, the pill is free and tampons aren’t.”

Campaigners have been fighting this issue for decades, yet the slow pace of change is frustratingly difficult to comprehend.

In 2000, the UK did reduce the tax rate on menstrual products from a whopping 17.5 per cent to the current 5 per cent.

And then at the end of last month, the Canadian government finally agreed to stop taxing tampons, sanitary towels and menstrual cups, taking effect from 1 July.

Hopefully that will pave the way for other governments to follow suit.

Aside from the financial cost, there are other important reasons to push for the recategorisation – and re-thinking – of sanitary items.

Frances Lucraft, who organised a recent protest in Bristol, has highlighted concerns about both the health implications and the environmental impact.

She points out, “Because sanitary products are not considered health products there are no guidelines that they have to state what a product is made from, and then we put them into our most intimate of areas.”

Her new company will also aim to reduce the huge amount of landfill waste currently produced, by focusing on creating biodegradable, organic menstrual products.

Of course, the tampon tax is just one part of a much bigger picture in terms of how tax affects different groups within society, and our beliefs about the types of product/need that should be used to generate revenue – for either the public or private sector.

Eleanor Robertson has recently suggested that what we really need is “a more holistic assessment of how our tax system affects women”, alongside practical initiatives such as better ensuring homeless women have access to menstrual products.

Agreed – but in the meantime, shall we just go ahead and scrap this ridiculous tax?

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