26 May 2015

Tampons should not be taxed. Period.

You might not expect much enlightenment from a political party which once tried to score points against a female prime minister with a menu at a fund-raising dinner satirising her “small breasts, huge thighs and…big red box”.

But that very same party, now in government in Australia, appears to rather more forward-thinking than our own prime minister on one issue which has vexed campaigners the world over: namely the tampon tax.

After a student carrying a giant tampon confronted Treasurer Joe Hockey – guest of honour at that controversial fund-raising dinner – with a petition calling for the tax to be scrapped, he promised to write to state governments asking them to consider doing so.

About time too, really. Because in Australia, as in other countries around the world, the taxman considers – somewhat sadistically – that using a tampon, or indeed a sanitary towel, is a “luxury”. And therefore it’s subject to taxation.

This is quite clearly ridiculous. There’s nothing remotely luxurious about deploying either a tampon or a towel: in fact, it’s a pain in the backside (or thereabouts).

Surely now the Australians are blazing a trail, it would be an embarrassment if the UK lagged behind?

Above: Joe Hockey confronted over the ‘tampon tax’

But there’s a problem, and it’s called the European Union. Fifteen years ago, after a campaign by the Labour MP Dawn Primarolo, VAT on what the Treasury still rather prudishly calls “sanitary products” was slashed from 17.5 per cent to 5 per cent.

But, according to David Cameron himself, it’s “quite difficult” to go further “within the framework of European laws”. The Treasury insists 5 per cent is the lowest possible rate under EU VAT law.

So it’s clear to me that the prime minister now has a golden opportunity to get this tax reformed as he traipses round Europe trying to secure the concessions he needs to keep Britain in the EU. I bet Angela Merkel would be on board for starters.

If he fails, though, it’ll be another stick wielded by the Ukippers.

They’ve already proved remarkably astute on this, with possible leader-of-the-future Suzanne Evans making war on what she called an “outdated and outrageous” tax on being a woman. I’ve yet to hear leader Nigel Farage opine on the issue, but I’m sure it’ll happen after his enforced summer break.

How shameful, then, that the other parties haven’t bothered to follow suit. The Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg sounded like an embarrassed schoolboy giggling about periods when he said earlier this year that scrapping the tax was “not something which is presently going to make its way into our manifesto, no”.

No wonder there’s not a single female Lib Dem MP left standing.

A petition by student activist Laura Coryton calling on Chancellor George Osborne to do the right thing now has nearly 235,000 signatures.

She points out that even crocodile steaks, edible sugar flowers and helicopters are exempt from tax.

The same should apply to “sanitary products”. Period.

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4 reader comments

  1. Philip says:

    I think you need to get Factcheck to look at this article. As far as I’m aware, men’s razors are taxed at the standard rate of VAT (20%), whereas tampons are taxed at the 5% reduced rate. The graphic above is therefore wrong – and misleading.
    Apart from that, VAT isn’t charged on luxuries, but on most products (& you can always find silliness in the description of “food”). Tampons benefit from a reduced rate which adds minimally to the cost. And Dawn Primarolo was correct that the UK had agreed not to create any more zero-rated products under EU law. Whether the women Cabinet Ministers can make this a substantive matter for the UK to agree in order to recommend staying in the EU is a matter for them.
    PS Don’t press for tampons to be “exempt”. Under VAT law, that is not the same as being relieved of tax and could quite probably mean that the result was that they’d cost more than they do now.

  2. Philip Edwards says:


    A very droll headline.

    As was “…it’s a pain in the backside (or thereabouts).”

    I’ve always said you girls get a bum rap from Mother Nature.

    Me, I know what time of the month to make myself scarce from my beloved. Problem is……she comes after me with an axe.

  3. Simon says:

    You just *had* to do that pun, didn’t you? ;-)

  4. Andrew Dundas says:

    What we chiefly need is for transparency of VAT.
    EU governments conspire to hide the amount of VAT they levy on spending by ordering that prices are always quoted as inclusive of VAT.
    That conspiracy by governments enables them to levy their high tax rates without much complaint from shoppers – including women – who’re unaware of just how much cash they’re paying out on top of the shop price.
    Cameron is correct to say that altering the VAT rules that all governments have agreed to would require a very large change. The minimum EU rate is 5%. It’s not just tampons. VAT is a pandora’s box of unfairnesses.

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