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UK government scraps tampon tax and follows Scotland’s lead

CW: domestic abuse, unconsensual sex

The five percent rate of VAT on sanitary products has been axed in the UK, meaning that tampons and pads are now treated as essential items.

The government had committed to scrapping the tax in the March budget, and the change was implemented on 1 January 2020 following the UK’s exit from the EU.

Prior to 2021, sanitary products were classed as a “luxury”, whereas items such as Jaffa Cakes and edible cake decorations were considered “essential”. 

The scrapping of the tampon tax across the UK follows Scotland’s historic move in November 2020 to become the first country in the world to provide free period products. 

This decision followed on from the provision of free period products in schools and colleges, which was implemented in 2018 in Scotland and then 2019 in England.

The change is seen as a victory for those who menstruate, as well as for those who have been campaigning for an end to period poverty over the past years.

According to a 2017 survey, one in ten 14 to 21 year olds is unable to pay for the period products they require.

It is estimated that the move will cut seven pence from the price of a pack of 20 tampons and five pence from the price of a pack of 12 pads, leading to a saving of approximately £40 over a lifetime.

The government states on its website that the “move was made possible by the end of the transition period and freedom from EU law mandating VAT on sanitary products.”

EU law currently requires that sanitary products be taxed at five percent. 

Laura Coryton, who had been campaigning for the abolishment of the tampon tax since 2014, told the BBC that the move “challenged the negative message that this tax sent to society about [people who mensturate].”

However, the activist also said it was “just frustrating that the tampon tax is being used as a political football in terms of Brexit.”

In 2016, David Cameron’s government had managed to secure support from all 27 other EU leaders for looser VAT rules.

However, after the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, its influence within the EU became limited, and the regulation change was delayed due to Brexit negotiations.

The European Commission has now published proposals for the abolition of the tampon tax within the EU, with implementation due for January 2022.

Since 2015, the funds raised by the tampon tax have been directed towards charities such as those that support victims of domestic abuse and rape.

Some activists fear that the removal of the tax may lead to lack of ring fenced funding for such charities, as a replacement for this funding has not yet been announced.

Image: Wikimedia Commons