November 2015: Taboos / periods / topical

Everything That's Wrong With The Tampon Tax Debate

The news that the vote to remove tampon tax was denied is bitterly disappointing and in more ways than one. Not only did the majority if not all of the men involved vote against the cut, even women were unsympathetic to the cause.

Though I am not blind to the reasons, it is the justifications that have raised more questions. Several have suggested that we would need to leave the EU for the tax to be removed, when really, all that is needed is for the EU officials to all agree and vote yes.

This issue is not new and has been ongoing for some time, and I believe that a petition consisting of over 250,000 signatures is more than enough to vote yes. It almost feels as if the Government are hiding behind the EU and using it as an excuse to state that their hands are tied.

5% tax on an essential product is unnecessary. However, no one is stating what products are exempt of tax. House boat moorings, crocodile and kangaroo meat are considered ‘non luxury’ items. What is even more surprising and shocking is that incontinence products are not taxed. They could be considered a more extreme version of sanitary products, but they’re still on the same spectrum regardless. When these products, along with nappies and maternity pads aren’t taxed, the question that springs to mind is… why is everyone so scared of a little blood?

The result of this vote is extremely important as it shows us that MPs aren’t even willing to open a discussion, which halters all further hopes of a future vote.  It is a horrible reminder of what happens when women aren’t at the top table.

Men are scared of the word tampon and I have noticed that it is only the majority of women MPs involved, that have spoken up about the decision. This hasn’t changed much in the last 15 years, when Gordon Brown very quietly and uncomfortably cut the tax from 17.5% to 5%. Women have periods and everyone knows we have periods, so why is it still such a taboo? This vote has highlighted the need for more a 50/50 parliament where women are a part of the decision making. The Government need to look at what’s happening, what the current issues affecting the country are and respond quickly. It’s time to question these decisions, get more women involved and push the agenda.

Another excuse is that anything that was given added tax when the policy came in during the 70’s can’t be amended or changed and no other products can be allowed 0%. So while Marks and Spencer’s teacakes and bike helmets are exempt, why are tampons being left out? It is a policy that benefits a selection, instead of the general public, and since the 70’s, several products have been developed and put to market with 0% tax. So why aren’t the Government and the EU working together to change with the times? It requires innovation and modern understanding, which in this case is lacking.

What happens if you can’t afford sanitary products at all, let alone the tax attached to them? Women make up 26% of the homeless population and for these women on the street having a period isn’t a hassle; it is a nightmare. Though sometimes available in shelters, supply is limited and is substantially less than demand. Many shelters are dominated by male staff so women don’t feel comfortable asking for such an intimate request. The lack of options lead to shop lifting and other forms of crime. It is bad enough to get caught shoplifting, but can you imagine the humiliation of getting caught shoplifting sanitary products? I would have thought that preventing crime would be on the top of the political agenda.

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 10.26.13

FlowAid was developed as a campaign to raise awareness of this issue, and provide sanitary products to homeless women through working with charities and shelters to increase distribution.

This is an issue that is very rarely taken into consideration. From reading comments on articles and opinion pieces on tampon tax, it’s not hard to see that homeless women are often forgotten. We may be complaining about the non removal of the luxury tax, and rightly so, but what happens when sanitary products suddenly become unavailable completely? The more we focus on the fact these products aren’t freely available to women, the more absurd it seems.

Tampons aren’t a luxury, period.


Hayley Smith
Founder of Boxed Out PR and FlowAid.




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