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‘Consigned to the history books’: ‘Tampon tax’ scrapped from today

Written by on 1 January 2021

The 5% rate of VAT on women’s sanitary products – known as the “tampon tax” – has been scrapped.

The government had committed to axing the unpopular tax in the March’s budget and the change took effect on New Year’s Day.

EU law had prevented member states from reducing VAT below 5%, but Brexit means a zero rate of VAT for the products can now be introduced.

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The moment Britain left the EU

Before the UK left the bloc, period products were treated as “luxury” rather than “essential items”, a practice described as “sexist” by some campaigners.

During Wednesday’s Brexit debate, Sir Bernard Jenkin, Conservative chairman of the Commons Liaison Select Committee, said: “I feel we’re having a debate about a glass being half-full or a glass being half-empty.

“But I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that 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.”

The Treasury has estimated the move will save the average woman nearly GBP40 over her lifetime, with a cut of 7p on a pack of 20 tampons and 5p on 12 pads.

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “I’m proud that we are today delivering on our promise to scrap the tampon tax. Sanitary products are essential so it’s right that we do not charge VAT.

“We have already rolled out free sanitary products in schools, colleges and hospitals and this commitment takes us another step closer to making them available and affordable for all women.”

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24 November: Free period products vote expected in Scotland

Felicia Willow, chief executive of women’s rights charity the Fawcett Society, said: “We warmly welcome the scrapping of VAT on all sanitary products from January 1 2021 and congratulate the government on taking this positive step.

“It’s been a long road to reach this point, but at last the sexist tax that saw sanitary products classed as non-essential, luxury items can be consigned to the history books.”

Others have disputed the claim that the change is only due to Brexit.

The long campaign to scrap the tampon tax has included debates in parliament by then-MP Paula Sherriff, which led to the Labour government moving sanitary products to a reduced rate of 5% from January 2001 – the lowest rate possible under EU rules.

An online petition started by activist Laura Coryton in 2014 was then signed by more than 300,000 supporters.

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Businesses braced for Brexit changes

In 2016, the European Parliament voted unanimously to start the regulatory process to allow any EU country to abolish any tampon tax – thanks to pressure from then Prime Minister David Cameron.

Some campaigners worry the change will no longer happen in the EU without the UK as a driving force.

The European Commission published proposals to change EU VAT rules in 2018, which would allow member states to choose one product exempt from VAT, but it has not yet been agreed on by all member states.

Since 2015 the GBP15m raised by the tax on period products has been spent on charities that help women – like women’s refuges and domestic abuse charities.

A replacement for the funding has not been announced.