2021 began with a feminist bang when the “luxury” tax rate previously applied to period products was finally axed. Although this is a big step to ending period poverty and stigma, there’s still a long way to go. Here’s how the tax was axed and where the period conversation is headed.
Tampon tax was introduced in 1973 at a whopping 17.5%. It was reduced in 2001 to 5%, thanks to a fury of campaigners, spearheaded by Baroness Primarolo, who thought that the tax sends a damaging message about women and menstruators to society. Meanwhile, other more menial items have always escaped tax altogether because they have been deemed to be essential. Such items include maintaining our private helicopters and eating alcoholic sugar jellies…
In 2014, I learned about the above absurdities that riddle our tax system. I wanted to follow a campaign or sign a petition organised to ensure HMRC understands that period products are at least just as important as the jellies in our cupboard or helicopters in our garages. But I couldn’t find one, so I decided to start my own. Much to my amazement, my petition gained some 320,000 signatures. Thanks to everyone who signed this petition and the MPs who took this petition to parliament, including Paula Sherriff MP and Stella Creasy MP, the sexist taxation policy was finally abolished last Friday.
This campaign win was covered by a storm of news outlets, including BBC News, the Guardian, New York Times, Sky News, The Independent, Dazed, Global Citizen, and even outlets that don’t typically cover feminist issues or periods, like LAD Bible. HM Treasury proudly tweeted to mark the axing of tampon tax and so did many politicians, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP.
This response was useful because it helps to end period stigma. If Rishi Shunak MP and the Prime Minister can openly talk about periods with confidence and pride, then so too can the rest of society. Reading about periods in this positive, political light helps to lift the embarrassment that we learn to associate with menstruation since we start learning about it in primary school.
Although the axing of tampon tax is worth celebrating, there is a long way to go to end period stigma and poverty. Period poverty relates to the people who don’t have access to period products when they need them. Charity Freedom4Girls have found that 10% of schoolgirls in the UK miss school every month because they don’t have access to period products when they need them. Plan International UK fears this impact has only increased through the pandemic. They found that 30% of girls now don’t have access to period products.
If you would like to support a campaign that is currently working to end period stigma and poverty, check out the list below:
3) Ella Daish wants all period products to be plastic free: http://www.change.org/p/make-all-menstrual-products-plastic-free
5) Make sure your school has opted in to the government’s free period scheme. Make sure they know that they can get free period products via PHS Group as a means to end period poverty amongst their students (and teachers!). Thank you Free Periods for your campaigning on this issue!
If the above campaigns receive the same support as my petition, period shame will soon be a problem of the past.
The reality is, ending tampon tax is like winning a seemingly small battle in the wider war against period shame, which has held so many people back for generations. There is still a long way to go, but wider, systematic changes are almost always made by many, many small campaign wins achieved by a team of relentless activists. This is one such small win, and in celebrating it you’re helping to end the period taboo. So, get celebrating. Period!
The Whitehouse team are experts in equalities and human rights, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the world. More information about our human rights experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at firstname.lastname@example.org.