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5th March 2014

VAT is a bloody mess

Amelie Eckersley argues that deeming sanitary products ‘non-essential’ and attaching a 5 per cent VAT unfairly disadvantages women

Value added tax is something that is usually seen as being charged on luxury items, however women around the country are currently paying five per cent VAT on all sanitary products, because they are viewed as ‘non-essential’. There are some items that are exempt of VAT – children’s clothes, books, newspapers, and some equipment for the disabled. Are tampons any less essential than books? Why are women being taxed on items that are fundamental to facilitating a basic quality of life for twelve weeks of the year?

In the 2011 census of the UK, women made up more than 50 per cent of the population (32.153 millions of us!), however in many respects are still treated as inferior to men. Research for the Higher Education Careers Services Unit found that the take-home pay of half of female graduates was between £15,000 and £23,999, in comparison to male graduates being more likely to take home £24,000 and above. Women are being fiscally disadvantaged whilst at university and once they’ve graduated.

Despite the multitude of articles on the internet claiming that if women have sex in a certain position, they are more likely to conceive a female child, the gender of a baby is pretty much pot luck. So why are women being punished for something they are unable to control, and probably something most of them don’t want to have anyway. The amount of chocolate eaten, tissues sobbed in to, painkillers swallowed and partners argued with in one menstrual cycle is nothing one would choose.

When I first started my period, it didn’t even register how much my mother was paying for my pads and tampons, mainly because it was just something I needed, something that was essential for me to continue life as normal, despite bleeding all day long for up to five days.

Once at university, I didn’t even register how much I was paying for my Lil-Lets or my Always. I just put it in my shopping trolley like it was milk or bread. Because I needed them to function while my uterus lining was breaking down. I am a student. I am lucky enough to have a job as well as a maintenance loan in order to pay for my rent, bills and lifestyle. On top of that, in comparison to my male housemates, I am also paying extra per year because I was born with a uterus.

Why should we, as women, have to sacrifice other luxuries for ridiculously priced sanitary items? As of today, in Sainsbury’s, it would cost me £6.54 for a box of Tampax Tampons and a packet of 26 Always Sanitary Pads.
The NHS provides free nicotine replacement therapy to help smokers quit, which includes patches, gum, lozenges, microtabs, inhalators and mouth and nasal sprays. Although this is a very important service, which benefits the health of thousands of individuals, it is not essential and cost the NHS £88.2 million in 2012, at a cost of £220 per person. The smokers chose to start smoking; women did not choose to start bleeding.

So what can be done? It’s unrealistic to expect the government to provide free sanitary products for the fertile percentage of the 32 million women, for the thirty-five odd years they menstruate for. But a realistic change could be dropping the five per cent VAT.

I am fully aware that taxes are essential to the smooth running of our country, and are spent on things like benefits and education. But those women who are unemployed, and the girls who are being educated are also menstruating. Maybe the government should provide free sanitary products for women on benefits, so that they can spend the small amount they actually get on food and electricity.

Surely every man, woman and child would find it not only offensive but probably quite disturbing if I were to walk around without using a tampon or wearing a pad. In a society where the cleanliness is getting to ridiculously clinical levels, where I can buy a deodorant spray for my armpits, vagina, feet and general aura (Impulse, the Chanel No. 5 of 13 year olds), I don’t think it’s ‘non-essential’ to remain fresh, clean and comfortable during twelve weeks of the year.
I am outraged with the fact that I am not only being taxed, but that I am also being charged at all to keep myself sanitised and presentable just because I am a woman. If David Cameron isn’t going to pay for my tampons, then maybe the NHS should at least subsidise them, and the five per cent VAT should be dropped.

It is ridiculous to think that the majority of the population is affluent enough to afford frittering away that kind of money on tiny cotton cocktail sausages with tails. This only directly affects women, and it means that as a woman, I will have a unfair fiscal disadvantage, because I will be paying for an expense every month, and my male housemates will not.

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