After years of the government evading the issue of tampon tax, David Cameron came back with a classic "yeah shut up and get on with it" statement. Getting rid of the tax would be “very difficult to do but I’ll have to go away and have a look and come back to you”. Well, he’s had a chance to look at it and finally things start to be moving in the right direction, with no thanks to him.
Cameron has argued that the EU sets the rules and it would be difficult to get them overturned. But on Monday night the government promised to ask the EU to ditch the tax on sanitary products. An attempt to get rid of the 5 per cent VAT rate, led by Labour MP Paula Sherriff, gained enough support for the House of Commons to vote against it by 305 votes to 287, so now they have to try and do something about it. While this is positive, there’s no guarantee it’ll go further than this, if the EU isn’t willing to budge.
From one of many women who think it’s ridiculous that we’re penalised for having periods, here are ten inarguable reasons why the tampon tax needs to be ditched:
YOU’RE GETTING TAXED FOR HAVING A UTERUS
You can’t choose to menstruate. It’s not an opt-in sort of deal. Like, oh this month I’ve lost my job, I can’t really afford tampons, can we call it off and wait until next month? It happens. If you were born a woman, like half the population are, chances are you’re having periods and there’s nothing you can do about it but bung it up. There is no equivalent for men.
HAVING PERIODS ISN’T A LUXURY
People seem to think that tampons are all about throwing on a hot bath, listening to Norah Jones, treating ourselves to a wodge of synthetic material to shove up our vaginas. Utter decadence. “Tampons have always been considered a luxury,” MP Stella Creasy said, in her pretty decent speech yesterday, when she proposed an amendment to the Finance Bill. “That isn’t by accident, that’s by design of an unequal society in which the concerns of women are not treated as equally as the concerns of men.” I wonder if men would consider a pack of Tampax a luxury if it were the other way around?
SIMILAR MEN’S PRODUCTS AREN’T TAXED IN THE SAME WAY
Razors aren’t taxed. If we’re really going to be pedantic about it, half the population looking like Stig of the Dump is less inconvenient than half the population leaving a snail trail of blood.
YOU NEED TAMPONS, YOU DON’T <NEED> JAFFA CAKES
Jaffa cakes, marshmallow teacakes, herbal tea, incontinence products, edible cake decorations, pitta bread, helicopters, crocodile meat. These are all things taxed at zero per cent or exempt from tax altogether. Now, I’m as big on crocodile meat as the next Tory, but if I really consider things through, I’d probably say a super-plus on a period is marginally more crucial. As Creasy highlighted in her speech: “It is when you start looking at what is described as a necessity and what is described as a luxury, that you see the inequalities in this debate.” Do the men in parliament really believe that the decorations for a fucking cake are more essential than products that stop women bleeding everywhere every month?
IT PENALISES THE WORKING CLASSES AND HOMELESS
Tax on sanitary products doesn’t work like income tax. Tampons aren’t cheaper for those who can’t afford them – they’re the same price for everyone. Increasing that price only means that women who are worse off are losing out the most. And sanitary products aren’t really that cheap. For a heavy period, you’re forking out a lot of your monthly budget.
IF YOU’RE ILL OR SWITCHING CONTRACEPTION, YOU COULD BE PAYING FAR MORE
We’re the ones who have to mess around with contraception, trying to find one that works for us, doesn’t make our hormones crazy, and sometimes this can fuck with our periods. Anything with progesterone – the coil or Yasmin for example – can leave you bleeding for months or irregularly and frequently. If you suffer from PCOS or endometriosis, like quite a few of my female friends, you might have seemingly unending painful bleeds. Not all women are fortunate enough to have the two to seven day bleed a month, every month. It’s often not as simple as twelve packs of tampons a year. That tax really starts to add up, on top of what you’re already forking out.
TAX INCREASES THE SHAME SURROUNDING PERIODS
Politicians can’t even say PERIOD, TAMPON, or VAGINA. Watching them try to get the words out of their mouths is like watching someone choke up a maxi-pad. These are the people we’re entrusting with building a society of equality from inequality. It’s a toxic mix of a lack of women in power and a perpetuated shame around women’s bodies and natural functioning that has led to issues such as this to not be resolved. If we don’t have access to sanitary products, this ingrained shame is cyclical. It could lead to health risks, not being able to maintain a professional working life or public ridicule. By taxing us for using sanitary products, our Government capitalises on period shame.
IT’S BEEN DEBATED FOR YEARS BUT NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE
When something has been argued against for years, there’s usually a sense that something must be addressed at some point, one way or another. You’d think the fact that tampon tax has been an issue for decades might indicate . The excuse is that now we’re in the EU, it’ll be more difficult to change. Within the EU we are now paying the minimum amount of tax possible.
OTHER COUNTRIES HAVE DONE IT
In Ireland, sanitary towels, tampons and panty liners are zero-rated for VAT, since the rate was in place prior to EU legislation imposing these new minimum rates. They’re also exempt from tax in some states in the US, including Maine, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They even recently abolished it in the whole of Canada. It’s hardly revolutionary. The UK is just dawdling behind in what is inevitable progress in the steps towards equality.
THERE’S A CONVINCING ARGUMENT TO MAKE SANITARY PRODUCTS FREE
We don’t pay for contraception or condoms. Why aren’t tampons included in that? I, along with others, believe that sanitary products should be free in some form – at the very least to those on a lower than average income. Being homeless on your period doesn’t even bear thinking about. Having to deal with a bleed while you’re vulnerable and have little means to stay clean would be nearly impossible. It’s still difficult if you’re on a low income. They are an absolute necessity that no women should have to be scraping by for. And if there’s a solid argument for free tampons, then we shouldn’t be in a society that deems it fair for sanitary products to be taxed on top of paying for them.
Follow Hannah Rose Ewens on Twitter here @hannahrosewens