An ‘overtly sexist’ tax

Campaigners remain determined to end the law forcing women in the UK to pay tax on sanitary products

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The campaigner behind a 250,000-signature petition to end VAT on sanitary products has vowed to keep up the pressure on government despite the loss of a key parliamentary vote.

Laura Coryton, who kickstarted the Stop Taxing Periods. Period petition, insisted the defeat in the Commons of an amendment that could have led to the removal of VAT for sanitary products would focus ministers’ attention on what the petition calls an “overtly sexist” tax.

Sanitary items are classified as “non-essential, luxury items” and have been subject to 5 per cent VAT since 2000, and 17.5 per cent before that. By contrast products such as helicopters and Jaffa Cakes enjoy a zero rate of taxation.

Politics graduate Coryton said: “This tax represents the marginalisation of issues associated with women. It was established by a male-dominated parliament that simply didn’t care about implementing a tax directed exclusively at women.”

Labour MP Paula Sheriff’s amendment to the Chancellor’s finance bill would have mandated the government to open negotiations with the EU on removing tax from sanitary products in the UK. The campaign received widespread support, with MPs including Eurosceptics, Conservative and Labour backbenchers and the SNP forming an unlikely alliance.

“The Treasury have tried so hard to ignore us over the past year”

The government was potentially facing a defeat and difficulty with the EU as a result. As part of EU law, the UK cannot unilaterally overturn taxation rates on domestic products in the UK without the consent of all 28 member states.

Treasury minister David Gauke reminded his party before votes were cast that without the consent of the EU “this would be unlawful” and vowed to address the issue by taking the matter up with counterparts across the EU and introducing it into discussions gradually.

Coryton said: “This is of course a bad situation and reflects some serious systematic failures in our political system, but I consider the outcome to be a success. The Treasury have tried so hard to ignore us over the past year but finally they have been forced to tackle this issue head on and vow to axe the tax. It’s a huge breakthrough – I’m very excited about it.”

Some of the 305 MPs who voted against the amendment defended their position. Lucy Allan, MP for Telford, said: “Contrary to what may have been reported on campaign websites, I voted for the government’s proposal to seek the consent of the 28 EU members to reduce the VAT from 5 per cent to zero, but I could not support a law which would be obviously struck out.”

Sales of sanitary protection and feminine hygiene products hit £293 million in 2010, according to research firm Mintel, meaning the total VAT paid by customers was nearly £15 million.

Last month, following the Commons vote, 22-year-old Charlie Edge from Berkshire and two friends protested for three hours at Westminster by free bleeding – not using a tampon – during their period. “Most people smiled and gave us positive responses,” Edge told BuzzFeed News.“If people are grossed out by me not wearing a tampon then I think that emphasises my point. They’re not luxury items.”

Campaigns elsewhere in the world have resulted in mixed success. Canada succeeded in achieving a zero rate earlier this year. Slovakia and France tax sanitary items at the premium rate of 20 per cent. In Australia it remains at 10 per cent after a previous attempt to implement the lower rate failed.

Coryton, currently working on the campaign in Australia, said abolishing the tax would be a “huge step towards furthering gender equality”.

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