Recently, supporters have been asking me the same straightforward question: “Why hasn’t tampon tax been axed yet?”. To be honest, sometimes I ask myself the same. In 2016, the UK Government committed to axing their 5% “luxury” tax levy on period products. Yet, two years on we are still paying it. That’s £30m in tampon tax revenue that we have paid over the past two years. £30m. But if the Government want to axe tampon tax and so do the general British public, then why hasn’t it been axed? Well, the answer is complicated. But here is a brief synopsis of our “bloody” situation.
2022 is perhaps the most important date anticipated by tampon tax campaigners. Here’s why. There are two pieces of law that need to be organised in order for tampon tax to finally be axed. These are 1) Brexit and 2) our tampon-tax-ending EU legislation (which has already been passed on an unprecedented scale by the European Parliament), both of which should be finalised by that magic year: 2022.
Firstly, let’s talk about Brexit. Yep, that’s right. You might not think that Brexit and menstruation go hand-in-hand but actually, they do. Believe it or not, the European Union controls the level of taxation imposed on period products across the entirety of member states. It does so to ensure a consistent level of taxation is maintained across the Union. So, we simply need to wait for Brexit to happen. Upon leaving the Union (as sad or joyous as that may be) we will gain sovereignty over our national taxation policies which of course include those dictated upon period products. The Brexit date given by the government is 2022. So theoretically, this should also be the date that we can legally axe tampon tax.
But it’s not quite that simple. Given recent ministerial resignations and the reality of May’s proposed Brexit package, we might not actually leave the EU for quite some time. The Government’s original Brexit date of 2022 is rapidly seeming entirely unrealistic. Even when we do finally secure some kind of a deal, we don’t know for sure what the Government will look when we start reassessing our own laws. The Party, Prime Minister and Cabinet in charge shape the priorities we hold. They decide what happens and when. Therefore, we don’t know if axing tampon tax will be first or last on their infinite list of policy areas to reassess. This means that the date we secure a Brexit and the date we axe tampon tax may be some years apart. That is quite a terrifying thought, but don’t worry. We have a plan.
We haven’t campaigned for four years with the backing of over 300,000 people to sit, wait and cross our fingers hoping that, whenever a Brexit deal happens, tampon tax will be a priority. That would be ridiculous. Instead, we’ve decided to change EU law. If a Brexit deal does take an eternity to finalise, then we will still be able to axe tampon tax while in the Union thanks to our tampon-tax-ending golden piece of EU legislation. Our policy was passed by the European Parliament in 2017. It allows all member states to axe tampon tax (or reduce it to the lowest tax rating implemented within each country) if they so wish. It will be made law in the golden year of 2022, irrespective of Brexit.
So, the UK Government will be able to axe tampon tax in 2022, no matter what. If Brexit happens by that date (and the Government has said that it will…) then we will be able to axe tampon tax because we will be in charge of our own taxation laws and entirely free to axe whichever tax we please. If Brexit hasn’t happened by that date and negotiations are still being made (which is looking increasingly likely) then we will also be able to axe tampon tax because the Union itself will have activated a law which gives each member state the right to axe (or reduce in some cases) the levy implemented on period products. If we axe tampon tax through this law then we will simply maintain the 0% tampon tax rate when a Brexit is reached. Tampon tax will be a thing of the past. Period.
In the meantime, we need to keep the conversation alive. Parliament needs to know that the pressure is still on and that if an opportunity to axe tampon tax presents itself sooner than expected, we need to take it. Lots of MPs, organisations and charities are helping us with this. On 11 July Dawn Butler MP held a roundtable event in Parliament to discuss period poverty and the axing of tampon tax to demonstrate parliamentary support for pushing this change through parliament as soon as possible. But there’s lots more to be done. Fighting period poverty through amazing campaigns like those organised by Amika George, supporting our sister petitions across the world or following the charities benefitted by our £15m tampon tax fund are all ways to help and become a tampon tax hero.