EDITORIAL: What scrapping the tampon tax actually means

Downing Street has announced an EU deal to scrap the widely condemned tampon tax after a series of negotiations with the 28 member states of the European Union.

The tampon tax, for those who’ve got their heads in the sand, is a value added tax on female sanitary products set at 5%. This is something which is massively criticised, as female sanitary products (a necessity for every woman at some time in their life) are seen as “luxury items” but men’s razors (and even popular snack Jaffa Cakes) are indeed a necessity rather than a luxury and therefore tax exempt. More than 300,000 people signed a petition to get sanitary product tax scrapped altogether.

The Chancellor, who delivered his eighth Budget on Wednesday, failed to address the sanitary issue in his speech.

So why, aside the obvious, is scrapping the tampon tax so important?

Part 1 – biology. Periods happen to pretty much every woman. In history, menstruation has been a filthy taboo and euphemisms such as “having the decorators in” are still used to connote having a period. A woman can spend around 3,500 days of her life riding the crimson wave. That’s almost ten years of non-stop period. Assuming an average monthly blood loss of 35ml and 450 periods on average in a lifetime, that’s 15.75 litres of blood loss over the ten years. Around 70% of menstruating age women use tampons, and will get through 11,400 tampons in her life. If there’s 20 in a £2.90 pack of Tampax Compak, for example, that’s £1,653 spent on tampons – not forgetting the additional panic buys, pantyliners for heavier flow, ruined underwear and painkillers. It’s an expensive business, being a woman. 

Prime Minister David Cameron. Photo by Toms Norde, courtesy of Wiki Commons

Prime Minister David Cameron. Photo by Toms Norde, courtesy of Wiki Commons

Part 2 – the EU referendum. The scrapping comes at an uncertain time in UK politics. Tampon taxation is an EU regulation – so negotiating a deal to scrap it could be seen as another factor in reasons to stay inside the European Union or leave it, depending on your own stance. If it’s scrapped, it could show how we are becoming less tethered to the Union: we could be better off out, we could simply reshuffle our position within the group. It’s also helping the Labour campaign significantly – it’s Labour MP Paula Sheriff who has put forward the amendment, and at least 25 Conservative MPs are expected to support the motion in a Parliament with a majority of just 12.

Part 3 – equality. It could be said that shark week is one of the biggest barriers in gender equality, especially in modern Western society. Personally, I’ve seen a plethora of period perplexities, such as men thinking it’s just an excuse to bunk off work, being able to turn a period off like a tap, and that inserting a tampon “feels good”… Now that everyone is talking period politics, there is more underlining of the inequality faced by having the tampon tax in place. If the tax is indeed scrapped, there could possibly be a big surge in female empowerment and engagement in politics – as, you know, politicians are finally listening to the fairer sex. There is, however, still some inherent inequality when it’s male politicians and journalists getting the most airtime to discuss the topic.

I’m sure that women around the UK will rejoice when the tampon tax is eventually scrapped. A 5% reduction on a necessary item for the sake of a woman’s health may not seem much, but it’s the principle of inequality that matters the most. I’d happily welcome it… 


Jessica Allen

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