It was a campaign hard-fought and now it has been won. The tampon tax could soon be no more. How exactly did the tampon tax go out? Did it involve large scale protests, loads of us taking to the street and waving our heavily-taxed sanitary products in the air or thousands of tampons being posted to the Prime Minister in protest of the fact that sanitary wear was actually being taxed as a luxury product.
No. The end of the tax and the campaign is surprisingly anti-climactic. After a successful campaign over the last year, which started with a Change.org petition, the Prime Minister finally brought the issue up with his colleagues in the European Union’s HQ and a deal was made.
Cameron himself didn’t have the power to stop taxing our periods, the 5% tax was actually set through EU tax law. So, as promised, he politely took up the issue of charging VAT on sanitary products with other leaders at the EU summit which is currently happening in Brussels.
They agreed to allow a zero VAT rating on sanitary products from now on. Now that Mr Cameron has the OK from the EU the tampon tax could actually, in theory, be scrapped within days. There you have it, as simple as that. Dave asked nicely and they said OK.
The Chancellor, George Osborne, has said that the Government has ‘heard people’s anger over paying the tampon tax loud and clear.’
‘We said we’d fight for agreement to reduce the VAT rate to zero and tonight all European leaders have welcomed our plan to do just that’, he added.
He went on to big up their achievement and said ‘we’ve achieved what no British government has ever tried to achieve. It just shows how Britain can make a case for a reform that will benefit millions as a powerful voice inside a reformed EU.’
The spin here is obvious. The timing was good for the Prime Minister, Eurosceptic members of his party who want us to leave the EU were threatening to join forces with Labour and the SNP, lead by Paula Sheriff MP who first raised this issue at Parliament last November, in calling for the tax to be scrapped, which would have been very embarrassing for him. He has absolutely played politics with periods here, and if it was that easy to get an OK on this issue you can’t help but wonder why he didn’t just ask before? It’s very convenient for Cameron to be able to bring home a win on this right now so that he doesn’t get defeated by his own party in the months running up to a referendum on whether this country should stay in the EU or not.
Paula Sheriff told The Debrief, ‘initially I tabled an amendment back in October which lead to a debate in the House of Commons. This is something that I’ve been passionate about for years, since I was a teenager. As soon as I became an MP this was one of the big campaigns I undertook. It wasn’t just the VAT on tampons [that was the issue], it was the implication that women are somehow second class citizens.’
‘We all know that periods aren’t a luxury so the fact that sanitary items were taxed as such was just ridiculous’, she added.
Sheriff has kept the pressure on the Government since October when it comes to the period tax, ‘I’ve asked questions nearly ever week and sometimes twice a week about this, I’ve put written questions in to ask them when [the end of the tax] was coming, when they were going to renegotiate [with the EU].’ She told The Debrief that it was at that point that some ‘Eurosceptic Tory MPs saw this as a reason why we should leave the EU’ and backed her in calling for an end to the tax.
The 28 EU leaders all agreed unanimously on the issue and welcomed ‘the intention of the [European] Commission to include proposals for increased flexibility for member states with respect to reduced rates of VAT, which will provide the option to member states of VAT zero-rating sanitary products.’
Earlier week, as part of his Budget, Osborne announced that the £12million the government gains from the tampon tax would be used to fund charities which support women, particularly on domestic violence issues where he has faced heavy criticism for cutting central funding.
This was meant to appease critics of the Government and campaign groups like Sisters Uncut but it only served to anger people further who asked the question: ‘why should a tax paid by women be used to fund crimes against them committed by men?’
Sheriff herself acted quickly after the Budget announcement. ‘We tabled another amendment which seems to have had an effect on the Prime Minister bringing it up [at the European Commission] again and now we believe we are well on the way to scrapping this ridiculous tax’, she said.
‘It’s not just about the pennies and the pounds its about what this change represents its about empowerment for women’, she added.
Sheriff isn’t going to let anyone off the hook just yet, speaking to The Debrief she said ‘I’ll be absolutely insistent to make sure the Government acts on this. These services are absolutely a necessity so we need to ensure that they continue to be provided so I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that we don’t see any further reduction in them.’
So there you have it, Dave and George will spin this as a victory on their part but, it’s testament to the power of an online petition attracting attention and one MP’s commitment to seeing an end to what she saw as an unacceptable and ‘ridiculous’ tax on women.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.