Putnam Valley, New York
In March 2020, Rishi Sunak, the British Chancellor of Exchequer (what would be the American Secretary of the Treasury), announced the removal of the United Kingdom’s “tampon tax” from the country’s 2020 budget. This change comes during the U.K.’s Brexit transition period and is set to be implemented at the end of the transition, which will likely be in January, 2021. Currently, menstrual products such as tampons, sanitary pads, and menstrual cups have a 5% VAT (value-added tax), and are classified as “non-essential luxury goods.”
This change marks the end of a 20-year campaign led by women’s rights activists, who advocated for the removal of the tampon tax and demanded that menstrual products be declared “essential goods.” This victory comes after a long, politically motivated battle between activists and members of Parliament, and included a set of benchmarks along the way. Back in 2000, MP Dawn Primarolo (Labour-Bristol South) successfully spearheaded a campaign to lower the tampon tax from 17.5% to 5%. The movement strengthened exponentially once the facts about taxed goods in the U.K. surfaced. A petition launched by activist Laura Coryton in May 2014 called for the removal of the tampon tax after discovering that goods such as edible sugar and crocodile steaks aren’t classified as luxury goods under VAT regulations.
The complete abolition of the tampon tax only becomes possible after the U.K.’s separation from the E.U., due to the E.U.’s rules that require the U.K. to maintain their tampon tax at a minimum of 5%. The official separation of the U.K. from the E.U. is what finally gives British parliament the power to eradicate the remaining 5% VAT as a whole. Once the Brexit transition period concludes on January 1, 2021, the tax will be officially out of law.
It is acknowledged that the tax cut will save customers approximately 7 pence (9 cents) per 20 tampons, and 5 pence (6 cents) per twelve menstrual pads. This could save the customer approximately 40 pounds ($52 USD) in their lifetime. However, many activists consider the economic aspect of the tax cut to be one small part of the bigger picture of gender equality. Feminist and campaign leader Laura Coryton said, “The end of this tax symbolizes the end of a symptom of sexism and the period taboo, which has created period poverty and has stopped girls from going to school. I’m so happy that all 320,000 people who signed my petition, as well as the many generations who have campaigned against this tax, have finally been listened to.”
Aside from the U.K., many countries in the E.U. have launched their own movements in an effort to lower their tampon tax. Germany, for example, succeeded in reducing their tampon tax from 19% to 7%. The fight continues across the E.U. and specifically in the U.K., where women's rights activists are now fighting for funding towards female-focused charities on behalf of British Parliament.