In the UK, there’s a new battle bring fought over women’s reproductive health. Organisations disagree with the Government over what qualifies as “essential” sanitary products for women who menstruate, and the outcome could have serious health and environmental consequences.
The coalition of organisations, including businesses and women’s rights groups, is asking the Government to remove the 20% ‘tampon tax’ that remains over women’s menstrual underwear products, where a previous bid to have the tax scrapped was rejected last year.
The remaining “tampon tax”
The new campaign entitled ‘ThisTaxisPants’ is led by reusable period pant brand, Modibodi, backed by women’s equality rights group, The Fawcett Society, and Bloody Good Period, a non-profit that donates menstrual products to vulnerable women and provides related education. Their aim is for chancellor Rishi Sunak to scrap the remaining tax in his Spring Budget announcement, which is due to take place on March 3.
Following years of campaigning from women’s rights groups, the Government finally declared women’s sanitary products, including tampons and pads, to be classed as essential items, where VAT was removed on January 1. However, women’s period pants remained luxury items and taxed at the same rate as champagne.
Making it tax-free: the inclusion, environmental and health reasons
In an open letter to the government, the organisations cited its “hypocrisy” over scrapping the tax on women’s single-use sanitary products while ignoring reusable underwear, a healthier, more inclusive, and environmentally sustainable choice for women that bleed.
The conservative government’s winning 2019 manifesto included pledges to reduce plastic waste, reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and stimulate a ‘green economy‘, so you can see why advocates for scrapping the remaining ‘tampon tax’ see the government’s exclusion of reusable period pants as hypocritical.
Compared to tampons and pads, period pants can be used for two years. Unlike the former that can consist of 90% plastic, period pants are made from sustainable materials like bamboo and wool.
User sustainability aside, its proponents believe they are a more accessible product for people with disabilities, reproductive health conditions, and demanding jobs, which are reasons enough to have them classed as tax-free and essential female health products.
In a shared statement, supporters said the reusable products have already “been a relief for frontline workers” during the pandemic who work long hours and don’t have the time for regular bathroom breaks. They also said the product’s long-term usability makes it ideal for users with “sensory issues” and those with conditions such as endometriosis who may experience more bleeding than others.
Investing in reusable sanitary solutions could also be a better choice for women and girls from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds. In the UK period, poverty is still an issue, where a 2020 study found that one in ten girls had been unable to afford sanitary products.
The Government’s “hypocrisy” over the tampon tax
Not only does taxing this alternative form of menstrual product limit women’s personal choices, but it’s also a bad move for the environment and women’s health too. Tax-free products such as tampons and pads are not easy to recycle, and due to their plastic composition, can be absorbed into the body. These products are also known to block sewers, where the government spends around £88 million a year dealing with this issue.
Kristy Chong, CEO and Founder of Modibodi, said, “As the Government stated in January, sanitary wear is not a luxury but essential, so we’re frustrated that the government has created a limit to what is considered a necessity when it comes to period pants.
“We’re calling on Rishi Sunak to recognise how vital period pants are in overcoming major issues like period dignity, quality of life and disabilities, and sport-related needs, whilst also reducing waste and tackling climate change. It’s important that the UK population has a choice to use reusable period pants without being penalised with a tax that is actually for luxury items.”
Felicia Willow, Chief Executive Officer, The Fawcett Society, added: “At the start of January this year, we celebrated the end of the sexist tax that saw sanitary products classed as non-essential luxury products. Despite this welcome change, it did not go far enough. This luxury tax is still being placed on reusable sanitary products, which have both environmental benefits and are a vital necessity to many. Reusable period underwear is not a luxury product, but a lifeline to many – from those with disabilities to frontline workers – and this tax must be removed from this essential product.”
Considering the pressure the government is under to make the country greener as well as the acute issue of period poverty in society, making reusable period pants tax-free will empower women from all backgrounds to make a more sustainable and healthier choice when buying products to meet their biological needs.