In 2015, then-student activist Laura Coryton created a petition calling for the UK government to introduce a zero-rate for the products, which pressured the government into confirming it would seek a change in EU law to allow any rate of VAT to be applied to sanitary protection, with then-Chancellor George Osborne announcing in the 2015 Autumn Statement that the funds raised by VAT on tampons and towels would be donated to women’s health and support charities. This sum came to 15million between 2016 and 2017.
In 2016, the “Stop Taxing Periods” campaign went global and the UK #EndTamponTax protest won, garnering 320,000 signatures. We did it. We got The Treasury to promise they’d axe the sexist tax on tampons, sanitary pads, and mooncups. But, sadly, 3 years on, nothing has happened. Sanitary products are still seen as a “luxury” item, and are currently taxed at 5% in the UK, with this percentage being subject to five different rates since 1973.
WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW…
Out of the 10 charities chosen to benefit from this sum last year, only two were women’s organisations. This year, it’s just one. So, it’s more than apparent that certain politicians haven’t kept their promises. In some instances, the government has even used this money to directly go against women’s reproductive rights, awarding £250,000 to Life, an anti-abortion organisation. I hope that just made you gasp, because it’s truly shocking.
Speaking to the OG activist who started the petition, she tells GLAMOUR that: “It’s got to quite a frustrating place where the government has agreed to end tampon tax as soon as legally possible, however, that might not be until 2022. It’s all caught up with Brexit because the European Union have ultimate authority over all member state taxation laws, we’re waiting to either leave the EU or waiting for it to go through the European Parliament. So either way, we’re stuck.”
When grassroots campaigns and activism start to make waves, and gain momentum, that’s when media picks up and the message spreads. But, it’s what happens after that counts the most, because nothing is won until it truly starts to help and impact the live’s of women. That’s why Laura’s new campaign, #PeriodWatch, is so important; “we’ve made huge progress and we’re not letting people or the politicians forget that they’ve made this promise.
So our main aim at the moment is to make the politicians remember we’re here and watching them, which is why we created Period Watch. We have lots of sister petitions, like the one in New York. It was an amazing petition, but we learned a lot from it because the state government there in NY said they would axe tampon tax, everyone celebrated, and afterward, they realised that it hadn’t actually been technically done and the politicians just dropped it when the media attention died down. So, we wanted to make sure that doesn’t happen here and it doesn’t get swallowed up by Brexit conversations.”
So what now? How can we keep the fight alive? The important thing to remember is that Tampon Tax is just one part of a much bigger issue, and that issue is menstrual inequality and how periods are used against women to repress them. Laura explains how this manifests in stigma “1 in 10 girls aren’t able to get ahold of period products – that’s not necessarily just because their parents can’t afford it. It could be because they don’t feel comfortable talking to their family about menstruation, or don’t even really know what’s happening to their bodies. It’s about getting rid of that stigma, and hopefully having free period products in school will help reduce that taboo.”
Talking about periods with those around you, openly and bravely, all counts as mini forms of activism that propels these conversations forward in the hope that one day periods will be normalised and understood. If you feel like you want to do more than that, there are organisations like The Red Box Project and Bloody Good Period, that provide women and girls in need with sanitary products. Or, put pressure on your local MP by writing to them about the hold up on abolishing the tax, and demand they keep their constituents in the know.
A common misconception is that the abolition of the tax on sanitary products extends to the entire “Pink Tax”. The Pink Tax, in short, is sexist pricing, an investigation by The Times newspaper in 2016 found that women and girls were charged on average 37% more for clothes, beauty products, and toys. Ms. Jardine, the MP for Edinburgh West, summarised the issue perfectly in March of this year when she said “It is entirely unacceptable that in 2019 women and girls are still paying more than men for basic products, such as razors and deodorant.”
There’s a lot more work to do, so join us in calling for change and putting pressure on parliament to end the Tampon Tax sooner than 2022, and for companies to start combating the Pink Tax with more urgency.