The tampon tax — that vilified levy which charges extra for sanitary products because they’re viewed as a “luxury” like they're chocolate biscuits rather than an essential item — is charged at 5% in the UK.
However, following a nationwide campaign to get the tax abolished, all money raised from the tax in Britain does now, at least, go to charities focused on women’s issues.
Last year, as a result, some £12 million in funding was redistributed through the Tampon Tax Fund to organisations working to help achieve gender equality. This year, the fund raised and distributed £15 million.
But the Tampon Tax Fund has problems that are damaging the already “fragile” women’s charity sector, according to a letter sent to the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt MP.
We are calling for the Tampon Tax Fund to be used for what it was pledged to: women's health and support charities. Please sign and share our petition. https://t.co/NWhjC1qh3Mpic.twitter.com/5j3JY9EQzu— Womens Resource Centre (@whywomen) April 5, 2019
The letter has been signed by more than 100 women representing a number of charities and academic institutions, coordinated by the Women’s Resource Centre (WRC), an organisation that supports small, specialist gender equality charities across the UK.
It criticised the government’s allocation of the tampon tax money to large organisations that don’t focus primarily on women’s issues. Last year, the letter highlights, just two out of the 10 charities chosen for funding were specialist women’s groups — and in 2019, that number has fallen to one.
For example, homelessness charity Crisis UK, anti-poverty group Comic Relief, and mental health organisation Mind were among those that received funding for specific projects that supported women through their issues.
“We are concerned that even when women’s charities have led bids, or applied in consortia-type arrangements, it is larger generic organisations that have been granted the funding,” the letter reads. “We are very concerned that the success of some of these bids will cause further damage to the fragile women’s charity sector by drawing investment to generic providers.”
The fresh controversy emerges after one of the funds’ biggest beneficiaries in 2017 was found to be an anti-abortion group that had reportedly claimed abortion increases chances of breast cancer. It had also previously likened abortion to the “death penalty” on its website.
The only small specialist group that received funding this year was Southall Black Sisters, according to the letter, an organisation founded by black and minority women which campaigns against gender violence and supports women affected by it.
It received just over £1 million. But its director, Pragna Patel, still signed joined the WRC in demanding change.
“I signed the letter because we feel that on principle, the Tampon Tax Fund should go to not-for-profit women’s organisations that work to end violence against women and to promote their mental and physical well-being,” Patel told Global Citizen. “While Southall Black Sisters was successful in obtaining funding, many women’s organisations lost out.
“I would like the funding to go to specialist domestic and sexual violence services for women, particularly those women who are already severely marginalised, such as refugee and asylum seeking women, minority women, and so on,” she added.
Patel said that the funding will help provide vital support to their services supporting destitute and abused migrant women, including paying for direct costs to provide emergency accommodation and food.
But does Patel think the tax should still be abolished?
“Absolutely!” she said. “The tampon tax should be scrapped because the government has an obligation to provide access to free health care and sanitary products. Such access is a right, not a luxury, and is a gateway to other rights including the right to education.”
We are delighted to have won this grant & look forward to working with our partners @AngelouCentre1 & @Safety4Sisters to provide basic support to abused & vulnerable & women who have ‘no recourse to public funds https://t.co/UgDCrASbwt 1/4— SouthallBlackSisters (@SBSisters) March 28, 2019
The campaign to abolish the tampon tax in the UK gained momentum when David Cameron was prime minister. Although the VAT rate was tied up in European Union law, Cameron negotiated the necessary freedom to reduce it to zero. But despite a triumphant announcement in the House of Commons, progress slowed to a standstill.
Instead, former Chancellor George Osborne redistributed the tax revenues to women’s charities in 2016. But the distribution has been plagued with criticism each year since.
And almost half of all British girls have skipped at least a day of school after they got their periods, according to a study from Plan International. Moreover, 1 in 10 girls cannot afford sanitary pads at all — something that should hopefully be addressed by the recent announcement that all secondary schools in England will soon receive free sanitary products.
“Every project that receives Tampon Tax Funding must benefit women and girls,” read a statement in response to the WRC letter from the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport. “Funding is allocated to reach projects across the UK.”
“This year alone, £7.5 million has been awarded to organisations that will benefit small and medium charities, including those supporting vulnerable women and projects addressing violence against women and girls.”