India has dropped the tampon tax - why haven't we?

Last week, India’s government scrapped its much reviled ‘tampon tax’ in a move that will drop the tax on all menstrual hygiene products from 12% to nothing. This is a clear and obvious step forward, and a great success for the hard working campaigners in India that worked tirelessly to remove the law. What this news also brings to the fore, however, is that the UK still inexplicably has this tax.

The tampon tax has been law in the UK since 1973, when we joined the forefather of the EU, the EEC. The levy on sanitary products was a requirement under EEC law at the time, and this has inexplicably never been changed. It has remained through to this day, with all EU member countries legally required to have at least a 5% tax on tampons and alternatives. For a long time, this was the excuse for the maintenance of the tax in the UK; that it wasn’t our decision to have it, and that there was nothing we could do about it. However, we have now of course left the European organisation, and that means we can get rid of the tax. So why haven’t we?

Well, if you hadn’t guessed, the only good reason is money. 5% tax on something worth around £2.50-£3.00 is raking in between 12p and 15p for the government per sale. That produces millions of pounds of income every year, which is of course some encouragement to maintain the law. On the other side of the debate however, there are a million reasons to scrap it. Not using tampons or an equivalent is unhygienic and unhealthy. Easy access to tampons means a lower likelihood of any accidents, which is surely better for literally everyone. Their definition as a ‘luxury’ makes absolutely no sense, considering they cover the same sort of bracket as toilet paper does. I could go on. The maintenance of the tax is ludicrous.

In my view though, it is the fact that tampons are classed as a luxury which is most offensive. Sanitary products remain classified as a luxury whilst all gambling is exempt. They remain a luxury whilst trading in antiques is apparently deemed essential, or while zoos avoid the very same tax. This whole area of the tax code needs an immediate overhaul, as it has become confusing and often ridiculous. Genuinely luxury products are exempt of any tax at all, while basic necessities remain highly taxed. It may be tiresome work, but something has to be done.

And the first thing that can be done, is fixing the bloody tampon tax.