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courtesy of Instagram/@im_ohne

It’s official: tampon tax has finally been scrapped in the UK

Activists rejoice as with January 1 2021, 5 per cent VAT will no longer apply to sanitary products

As of today (January 1 2021), the UK’s ‘tampon tax’ has finally been abolished. Campaigners have long decried the sexist tax – a 5 per cent rate of VAT on sanitary products – and today sees the culminations of years of activist work and government lobbying. 

It came through with the UK’s exit from the EU, which became official today. Under EU law, member countries must tax tampons and sanitary products at at least 5 per cent, as they are classed as “non-essential”. Now, the UK does not have to follow the rule. 

The European Union is currently working on scrapping its tampon tax, but not all member states have yet agreed to new proposals on VAT rules. The Republic of Ireland has zero VAT on sanitary products because its rules were in place before EU legislation. Australia, Canada, Uganda, and US States including Pennsylvania and New York are other countries and regions where tampon tax has been abolished. 

Scotland preceded this move back in November, becoming the first country in the world to make period products free with the Period Products Free Provision Bill. It cemented a legal obligation for local authorities to ensure free sanctuary products are provided to “anyone who needs them”. 

Campaigners and commentators, however, have been quick to reject that the tampon tax scrap is a “Brexit win”, highlighting that it has been possible for the UK to scrap it following an EU vote back in 2016. It’s been a long time coming for the rest of the UK – campaigners put pressure on the Labour government back in 2001 to adjust the VAT rate on sanitary products to 5 per cent, which was at the time the lowest possible under the EU’s VAT rules. An online petition started by activist Laura Coryton in 2014 gained more than 300,000 signatories, and following a campaign by #FreePeriods founder Amika George, free menstrual items were made available in schools in England. In 2016, the Conservative government announced VAT taken from period products would go towards charities that supported vulnerable women and girls. Controversially though, it was discovered that one of the organisations receiving some of the £15 million in funds was an anti-abortion charity. It also emerged that just two of 10 organisations focused specifically on women’s needs.

It hasn’t been detailed yet how this funding gap for the organisations will be plugged though,  but a government announced in a statement that: “the Tampon Tax Fund will continue to provide funding for projects supporting vulnerable women and girls… successful applicants to the £15 million funding for 2020/21 were announced last month."

Chancellor Rishi Sunak made the official promise to end the tampon tax when announcing his Budget back in March, and the date was confirmed for when the UK left the EU.  

Work is currently being done to make sanitary products free in Northern Ireland’s schools, with a recent debate in Stormont, NI’s assembly.

Felicia Willow, chief executive of women's rights charity the Fawcett Society, said in a statement: “We warmly welcome the scrapping of VAT on all sanitary products from January 1 2021 and congratulate the government on taking this positive step. It's been a long road to reach this point, but at last the sexist tax that saw sanitary products classed as non-essential, luxury items can be consigned to the history books.”

According to the Treasury, the cut of 7p on a 20-pack of tampons and 5p on 12 pads will save the average person using period products in the UK almost £40 over the course of their life.

“I'm proud that we are today delivering on our promise to scrap the tampon tax. Sanitary products are essential so it's right that we do not charge VAT,” Sunak said in a statement. “We have already rolled out free sanitary products in schools, colleges, and hospitals and this commitment takes us another step closer to making them available and affordable for all women.”

Activist Laura Coryton told Dazed back in March: “I feel so happy and relieved! We are one step closer to ending period stigma, poverty, and ensuring that mainstream politics is more diverse.”

“It’s great news that the tax is being abolished, and it certainly makes products more accessible,” Hayley Smith, founder of FlowAid – a campaign working to provide free sanitary products to homeless womentold Dazed in March. “However, accessible doesn’t mean affordable, and homeless women won’t always be able to guarantee that they will be able to afford them.”