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  • Writer's pictureQuinn Dwyer

The UK 'Tampon Tax' Abolishment

As Britain officially exited the European Union on January 1st, ending the almost 4 year back-and-forth, the nation also left behind what has come to be known as the ‘tampon tax.’ This 5% additional charge on menstrual products has only contributed to issues regarding affordability and accessibility of sanitary products for those who menstruate. With the end of this additional tax, activists celebrate yet another action towards ending ‘period poverty’: a global issue for those with low-income lacking proper funds or access to suitable period products.


The majority of period products are one-use, disposable items, thus needing to be replaced and repurchased. While reusable products exist such as menstrual cups and cloth period underwear, the most commonly used items include tampons and pads, which are made of synthetic rayon materials. A week-long period necessitates numerous of these products, and one Huffington Post article estimates the majority of US women go through around 20 tampons per cycle. On top of this, the average woman has around 456 periods in a lifetime, beginning anywhere from ages 8-15 and ending anywhere from ages 45-55. It is evident that those who menstruate need many of these products throughout their life to be able to properly take care of their period, so the issue of ‘period poverty’ is incredibly significant to the 800 million people who menstruate every day.


This decision to abolish the tax stems from the real consequences of expensive menstrual items such as tampons and pads. Despite being classified and taxed previously as ‘luxury’ or ‘nonessential’ items, menstruation impacts people’s work, education, and spending. In the UK, it was found that around 49% of young people who menstruate have had to miss a day of school due to their period, and 10% have reported not being able to afford quality sanitary items. On average, it can cost up to £8 per month for tampons and pads, and around 19% of menstruating UK women have said they began using less suitable sanitary products due to the high cost of the items. ‘Period poverty’ has only become more clear with the coronavirus, as 30% of menstruating individuals in the UK have reported struggling to afford these items during this time. With all of this information, it is no wonder the British government has been under pressure to eliminate the tax for a while.


One of the first moves to reduce period product costs was in 2001 when the government set the tax on these products at 5%, which was the lowest level the EU allowed. Pressure began to pick up more rapidly beginning in 2014 with the creation of a change.org petition, which when presented to the government in 2016, had 300,000 signatures in support of abolishing the tax. In 2015, the government also formed the Tampon Tax Fund; this program aimed to donate money collected from the tax to female charities and organizations aiding impoverished women. In total, the fund has allocated a total of 47 million pounds that were donated to these charities. This effort by the government to end ‘period poverty’ is also shown in the new initiative to provide free menstrual products in schools, which had begun to be implemented.


There is a slight dispute among British citizens as to whether the abolishment of the tax can be credited to Brexit. Officials who have supported leaving the European Union state that the tax was able to be eliminated because of the official exit on January 1st. Previously, Britain was restricted slightly by its involvement in the EU in regard to taxing certain products such as tampons and pads. While the EU has also begun discussions of eliminating the tax, the efforts have had little pay-off as it has gone nowhere in recent months. Despite this, activists still argue that conservative officials are simply using the elimination of the tax as a distraction and scheme to try to sway public opinion on the controversial Brexit. The activists state that the tax could still have been removed, even in the European Union.


By abolishing the tampon tax, Britain joins numerous nations that have moved to eliminate costs for sanitary items. Countries that have previously ended the tax include Canada, India, Kenya, and Australia, as well as 10 US states. Scotland also made history in November by becoming the first nation to completely make period products cost-free. It is clear that Britain’s decision not only comes from recent public pressure, but also the gradual global movement towards reduced costs for essential menstrual products.


Approximately 500 million people who menstruate worldwide suffer from period poverty. As periods can last anywhere from 2-7 days, the lack of proper hygienic products can result in negative impacts in schooling and work. This is especially an issue as it is hitting young people at a crucial age for development and learning. This problem only furthers educational and career gaps between the male and female sex, furthered by the stigma around menstruation especially from predominantly male government officials making decisions. The elimination of the 5% ‘tampon tax’, however, is yet another step in the right direction in allowing for all individuals to have proper and sufficient access to sanitary items for their period.


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