Taxing Tampons: Paying More For Being a Woman
Taxing Tampons: Paying more for being a woman
Periods are a fact of life. You would not be here without them: well, by that I mean the menstrual cycle and ovulation. Throughout her lifetime, the average woman will buy and use around 11,000 tampons, and that’s not even bringing sanitary pads into the equation. The point is that a woman needs a LOT of tampons to see her through her life comfortably and healthily. This would not be a problem if sanitary products were reasonably priced and affordable.
Alas, they are often not, as tampons and sanitary towels are taxed as luxury, non-essential items, whilst exotic meats (including crocodile and kangaroo), alcoholic jellies and houseboat mooring fees are not subject to any tax. I agree, I don’t know what I would replace my regular meal of crocodile sausages and alco-jelly chasers whilst I bask on my houseboat with, either.
The reason for this tax is that in 1975 the UK joined the Common Market and a 17.5% tax on sanitary products was introduced. Parliament justified this by calling sanitary products ‘non-essential’ and ‘luxury’. In 2000, the Labour MP Dawn Primarolo announced that sanitary tax would be reduced to 5% and stated that the change was ‘about fairness, and doing what we can to lower the cost of a necessity.’ Unfortunately, European Union law means that sanitary products must be taxed, so a change will not come over night. However, a campaign has been launched that hopes, with the backing of Westminster, to change the European policy.
‘Stop taxing periods. Period.’ is the petition which seeks to eradicate the sanitary tax. It is addressed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, and at time of writing had nearly 200,000 signatures. There are currently similar campaigns in Canada and France, with one due to be launched in Australia soon. The petition claims that ‘essential items should not be taxed because tax implements a monetary discouragement that lessens a product’s accessibility and affordability’, which is indeed, my sentiment exactly. Extra tax is added onto products such as cigarettes in an effort to dissuade people from buying them. It seems that tax exists on products as vital as sanitary products to ensure that the government will always make money out of their sale because women will always need sanitary pads and tampons. I don’t see why women should be charged every month for simply having a uterus.
This petition is not the only body that recognises how unfair this tax is, especially when put into context with what is exempt from the ‘non-essential, luxury’ tax. In November 2014, the University of East Anglia’s student union decided to sell tampons, sanitary towels and Mooncups at cost price to protest the tax. This led to some products halving in price on the shelf. In relation, and more worryingly, is the data issued by the Trussell Trust who have seen the number of people using their foodbanks rise from around 350,000 in 2012/13 to over 900,000 in 2013/14. Poverty is a real issue in the UK at the moment, with the groups between socio-economic groups becoming more pronounced. One in five parents, according to the Trussell Trust, had to choose between paying an essential bill and feeding their family. What happens, then, when sanitary products are factored into this equation, as they are often forgotten and overlooked in this context?
Condoms, dental dams and the pill are all free on the NHS, which is wonderful and they should be. I strongly believe that no one should be in the position where they have to scrape the barrel to by tampons or pads which will make them so much more comfortable and sanitary. People on low incomes in the UK can access free prescriptions, so why should they not be about the receive items that are essential to their health and hygiene, such as sanitary products, from medical centres?
The difference is that condoms prevent the spread of STDs and so the government encourages their use by making them free to prevent a larger scale STD apocalypse occurring. Along with the pill and other forms of contraception, all courtesy of Her Majesty’s government, condoms also reduce the chance of pregnancy, and the government does not want to have to deal with a baby boom crisis. That, in my opinion, is the crucial reason why sanitary products are not freely available to those in most need and are not more affordable. A period is not harmful to society, it is not infectious and does not cause discomfort to anyone except the menstruating woman. Yet, it is impossible to go about your daily life when you’re on your period without the correct sanitary products. Graphic details and descriptions are not necessary here because every girl and woman has been caught short at some time or other and the sinking realisation that you’re without the appropriate sanitary products, you’ll probably stain your favourite knickers and be in a terrible amount of discomfort is an experience that you don’t forget in a hurry.
Ultimately, it is impossible, impractical and ridiculous to even suggest that a woman on her period would be able to go about her regular life on her period without the correct sanitary products. As such, to qualify sanitary products as anything other than essential is an insult. It is marginalising those who have periods and in particular women who do not have the income to support the government’s misogynistic tax. It is not fair and makes these women who cannot afford the products vulnerable. Part of the reason why this has not been addressed before has to be with the whole ‘tampon taboo’ culture that we live in. The hiding of tampons, the invention of saying cute little phrases to say that you’re on your period without directly saying it, including but not limited to ‘surfing the crimson wave’ and ‘the painters and decorators are in,’ and the refusal by many to talk about periods. Of course, everyone is different and periods are a deeply personal issue and you can talk about them with whoever you want. However, my grievance is that women are systematically made to feel ashamed of having a period by a society which ignores them.
Periods will always happen. Sanitary products will always be in demand. To call them a ‘luxury’ is rude. They should be made affordable for everyone who uses them. It’s obvious, and I do not really see why this is an issue which has not been resolved already.
Madeleine is a final year student at the University of Exeter studying BA English with proficiency in French who has developed her writing and editing through her involvement with Her Campus Exeter. In her free time, Madeleine loves discovering new music in preparation for the UK festival season and searching for opportunities which can broaden her horizons, most recently this was volunteering as a teacher in Beijing, China, where she was immersed in Chinese culture and tradition. There are few things in this world that bring Madeleine more joy than glitter, velvet and sequins and her ideal dinner party guests would be Queen Elizabeth I, George Orwell and Taylor Swift. Currently, with graduation looming, Madeleine is exploring the idea of taking time out to travel the world on a shoe string before embarking upon a career in international humanitarian aid.