The tampon tax has been abolished after the government honoured its March commitment to remove VAT on women’s sanitary products.
But the campaigner who played a pivotal role in the drive to axe the tampon tax has accused the government of using the issue as a political football, after politicians said it had been scrapped thanks to Brexit. Existing EU law prevented member states from reducing VAT below 5%.
Laura Coryton, who started the Stop Taxing Periods campaign in May 2014 while a student at Goldsmiths, said the Brexit process had made it less likely that the tampon tax would be abolished throughout Europe.
She said: “It is a day for celebration today, but it is just frustrating that the tampon tax is being used as a political football in terms of Brexit.”
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said he was “proud” the government had delivered on its promise, adding that it was providing free sanitary products in schools, colleges and hospitals.
Speaking at Wednesday’s Brexit debate, Sir Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative chairman of the Commons liaison select committee, said: “We will be able to do things like abolish the tampon tax, which so many honourable ladies opposite railed against the government about, only because we’re leaving the EU.”
Coryton said the focus on period poverty and the scrapping of the tax was a cause for celebration, but said it was “frustrating” to hear it cited as a victory for Brexit, and hear little mention of the more than 320,000 people who had signed the petition and campaigning MPs such as Labour’s Stella Creasy and the former Labour MP Paula Sherriff.
“It’s great that the government is taking it really seriously – if the prime minister can talk about periods and surely anyone can talk about periods,” she said. “But it’s frustrating … to make this campaign into a pro-Brexit thing, because it doesn’t reflect the many different types of people who have been campaigning for it.”
Also, it’s not true, she said, adding that in 2016 – under pressure from the then prime minister David Cameron – the European parliament had voted unanimously to start the regulatory process to allow any EU country to abolish the tampon tax.
“That process has since gone cold, because we then left the EU and we were the ones pushing for it,” said Coryton. “So if anything, actually, Brexit has made it worse, because if we were to have stayed in the EU, then this piece of legislation would have gone through… then any EU member would be able to axe the tax, not just the UK.”
Since 2015 the £15m funds the tampon tax has raised in the UK have been directed to women’s refuges and domestic abuse charities. “The tampon tax has long been a symbol of policymaking based around men’s needs, so removing VAT is symbolically important,”’ said Mary-Ann Stephenson of the Women’s Budget Group. “But the tampon tax money has been an important source of funding for the women’s sector – the government needs to be clear about what will replace it.”