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Women’s services should not be funded by the tampon tax

ByPolly Smythe

Dec 8, 2015

When I buy a box of tampons, it usually isn’t as an act of charity and good will, but rather because I am bleeding profusely, and am trying to prevent blood staining my favourite pair of pants. However, thanks to last weeks Autumn Statement, I can now keep my pants blood free and feel philanthropic simultaneously, for the 300,000 people who signed the petition calling for the abolition of the tampon tax were clearly misguided, according to the Chancellor and his Conservative crew, who have instead decided to use the ‘£15 million pounds a year raised from tampon tax to fund women’s health and support charities’.

Whilst this is a seemingly positive move on the surface, it is not as though any extra money is actually being collected, but rather instead just a redirection of spending. This redirection makes it harder for campaigners to oppose the tampon tax; if it could possibly save the life of a woman fleeing abuse and violence, does it not seem unsisterly to reject it? Thus it becomes much harder to fight the tampon tax when it entails the financial protection of charities and services that do invaluable work. If a tampon tax has to be paid, then yes, the revenue it raises should protect women’s services. But the problem is, a tampon tax does not, and should not, have to be paid.

This measure gives no incentive to Osborne to fight the EU over the tampon tax, which is what campaigners are urging him to do. For if the EU did end the status of sanitary products as ‘luxury’, where would the money for women’s services come from? Can women’s charities be assured that their funding will be protected in the long run, or will they constantly need to be ready to beg David Cameron for money to continue their work?

This new measure purports to help women, but when the average woman spends about £18,450 on sanitary products throughout their lifetime, one might question if this is money vulnerable women can spare.

This ‘solution’ is even more insulting when taken alongside the Conservative track record on women. The austerity agenda is undeniably gendered, with the closure of Sure Start Centres, cuts to Carer’s Allowance, Tax Credits and Housing Allowance all disproportionately impacting women. Cuts to benefits make it harder for women to leave abusive partners as they simply don’t have the finances to do so, and further cuts to social housing often mean women have nowhere to flee. Cuts to local government authorities have seen the closure of 32 women’s refuges since 2010, with news emerging this week that Portsmouth domestic abuse services are now too under threat. The reallocation of tax revenue seeks to obscure the Government’s role in undermining the safety of women and their children, and does not do enough to remedy the harsh reality of cuts across the public sector that they are responsible for.

As domestic violence is chiefly committed and perpetrated by men, it would make far more sense to collect the tax revenue from a ‘male’ item. Why must women’s services be funded by ‘women’s money’? This reflects an alarming trend in which society views domestic abuse and violence as a ‘women’s issue’ and thus men are enabled to effectively disengage with the topic, as it doesn’t impact them. If it is a ‘woman’s issue’ then the impetus is upon women to have a solution. This stifles conversation about domestic violence between the genders, makes it harder for victims of domestic violence to speak up and enables men to abrogate themselves of responsibility for what is a societal problem, not a gendered one. The responsibility for ending domestic violence is not solely upon those who purchase sanitary products, but on the state and society as a whole.

Ultimately, the government cannot wash the blood from its hands through a levy on menstruation.


Image Credit: Brad Cerenzia

By Polly Smythe

Polly is the former President of The Student, having previously been Comment Editor and then Editor-in-Chief.

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