UK puts an end to ‘tampon tax’ first thing after Brexit

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
Sanitary Products Image
Representational Image

The ‘tampon tax’ has been abolished by Britain, with a zero VAT (Value Added Tax) rate applied to women’s sanitary products from midnight on January 1st, as the government enacted one of its first legislative reforms since leaving the European Union (EU).

With the United Kingdom no longer subject to the EU VAT Directive, it is now free to eliminate the mandatory 5 percent tax on all sanitary products. The move is part of a larger government effort to end Britain’s ‘period poverty,’ which includes supplying schools, colleges and hospitals with free sanitary products.

Rishi Sunak Image
Rishi Sunak
Finance Minister – UK

“Sanitary products are essential so it’s right that we do not charge VAT. We have already rolled out free sanitary products in schools, colleges and hospitals, and this commitment takes us another step closer to making them available and affordable for all women.”

Period poverty

Period poverty, a collective term used to describe the inability to afford or procure sanitary supplies, is often associated with poorer countries, but women in wealthier nations can also struggle to buy them.

According to a 2018 report commissioned by the menstrual cup brand Intimina, the average woman in the UK spends around $ 6,556 on these products over her lifetime, an amount that increases for people with medical conditions such as endometriosis. Due to embarrassment over not being able to afford protection, period poverty can cause girls and women to miss school or work.

Some countries, including Kenya, which was the first to make the move in 2004, followed by Australia, Canada and Ireland, have already scrapped the tax. However, many nations still tax period products, with some even treating them as luxury goods and applying similar tax rates to those on cigarettes, alcohol, and jewelry.

The 2020 tax rate on menstrual products was 27 percent in Hungary, 25 percent in Sweden, and 16 percent in Mexico. In the US, 30 states levy a sales tax on tampons and pads, according to advocacy group Period Equity.

Keeping up on promises

In his March 2020 budget, Mr Sunak first promised to eliminate the tampon tax, a step only made possible by the end of the Brexit transition phase on 31 December and by the United Kingdom gaining independence from EU legislation mandating VAT on sanitary products.

Free period products were rolled out to all state schools and colleges in England, Scotland and Wales last year, and were made available to all NHS patients. The government also set up the Tampon Tax Fund in 2015 to allocate money generated from VAT on sanitary products to projects supporting vulnerable women and girls.

Scotland went a step further in November when it made products such as tampons and sanitary pads freely available to anyone who needs them. Local governments must ensure free supplies are provided in public buildings such as libraries and recreation centers.

The Scottish government said that about 13 percent of people who have periods will benefit from the program in its first year. That would put costs, which it will cover, at about $8.7 million for 2022-23.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland received executive approval to provide free period products to all schools in December, after education minister Peter Weir pitched a paper on period poverty. The scheme will go into force by September 2021.

People, especially women, welcomed the UK’s VAT cut. “It’s been a long road to reach this point,” they said, “but at last the sexist tax that saw sanitary products classed as non-essential, luxury items can be consigned to the history books.”

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