Tampon Tax: Why It's Such a Bloody Mess


Do you remember in October last year when self labelled Meninist (ugh) Ryan Williams declared that women should be able to ‘control their bladders’ and ‘hold their periods in’?

Ryan blamed the need to bleed on an absolute lack of control and touted that tampons were indeed a luxury item. His bizarre views coupled with his down right lack of biological understanding caused a uproar on social media and highlighted, not only a worrying lack of knowledge but also a strongly felt misguided belief.

Frustratingly, Ryan cannot be seen as an exception to how sanitary products are considered. His declaration invoked ‘Meninists’ en masse to take to their computer keyboards dispelling similarly warped views and filling social media scrollers with despair. None of them seemed to understand the difference between essential and luxury as the rest of us cried out that bleeding was not a fun past time.  There was some hope when David Cameron declared at the start of 2016, that Tampon Tax would  soon be a thing of the past, but sadly it’s still not.

There has been some progressive news though regarding the tax. Laura Croyton’s Stop Taxing Periods. Period campaign ended up with more than 3m signatures and raised much awareness of the issue . The Tampon Tax was even significantly reduced from 17.5% to 5%. Whilst that’s an inspiring difference, we are still paying tax on all sanitary products because they’re considered a luxury item.

Bizarrely, these items completely avoid taxation:

  • Exotic meats e.g. crocodile, ostrich, horse and kangaroo

  • Jaffa Cakes

  • Edible cake decorations

  • Herbal tea

  • Flapjacks

  • Chickpeas and lentils

  • Marshmallow teacakes

You might also remember The Great Razor Debate back in 2015. There was lots of speculation which suggested that male razor’s were untaxed. Although this turned out to be incorrect (all razors are taxed at 20%), it still highlighted that there is no essential male only equivalent; something which is essential and yet subject to VAT. Twitter trolls did however try and suggest otherwise, putting forward ‘trousers’ and ‘Clearasil’ as taxed male ‘essentials’  and rationalising that menstruation and an outbreak of spots were on par. No. If you think about it too hard, what they were also suggesting is that people who bleed have no need for trousers or spot products. The mind literally boggles.

Even if VAT on sanitary products is reduced, it is still labelled a ‘luxury item’ under EU Legislation. However, Ireland do not pay tax on sanitary products because they declared them as essential before signing and the EU accepted. Although the UK did not, that doesn’t mean the government is powerless to invoke the change to the legislation. However, with Brexit it is unclear how important this will be in the future.

George Osborne declared in April that £10 million from the Tampon Tax would go to help ‘women’s’ charities. Sounds good right? Nah.

It firstly works on the pretence that all people who menstruate are cis women.  It also presents the idea that charities are gendered with only women being affected by issues like rape and domestic violence. To top it all off, £250,000 of the tax was donated to the anti-abortion charity Life which is made even more problematic by their fundamentalist tactics referring to after abortions as ‘getting rid of the corpse’ (no really, check this article out if you want to know more).

In addition to this, if you watch videos of the Tampon Tax being discussed in the House of Commons, you’ll notice that a number of the parliamentary members can’t even say tampon referring to them only as products. They can’t even say the word! They’re embarrassed! They’re desperate to shove the subject of periods back into a box mislabelled Women’s Issues. *shudders*.

Whilst the Tampon Tax is bad news for everyone that menstruates, there have been reports of girls living in poverty  and missing school when they’re on their period because they can’t afford sanitary products. Young people are literally missing out on their education because of their biology and some members of parliament can’t even say the words period and tampon.

Although you might feel full of despair and frustration at these prospects, you are most certainly not alone. Masses of people are joining the campaign with wry humour, posting pictures of their ‘luxury’ items on social media (check out the hashtag #endthetampontax on Twitter). Although Laura Croyton’s initial campaign has finished, still keep an eye on her website Period Watch  which insists that the Tampon Tax will be no more by the April 2018 budget at the latest.

It would be easy to view the story of Ryan Williams as a depressing example of how far we still need to go. However, the amount of people calling him out and telling him just how wrong he was is inspiring. The same tact needs to be taken with the Tampon Tax. We need to keep writing to MPs, talking about it with our friends,  keep posting about it online and keep signing petitions.

We need to carry on saying that it’s wrong until they hear us.

For further reading:

Tampon Tax funding

Ryan Williams on period control

California and the Tampon Tax

Rosy Candlin