People who menstruate in the UK will no longer be charged an additional tax on basic necessities required to manage their periods.
The UK abolished the tampon tax, which taxes menstrual products as luxury items, on Jan. 1, according to CNN. Previously, menstrual products were considered nonessential items and subject to a 5% value-added tax (VAT). The country joins Canada, India, Australia, Kenya, and several US states in eliminating the tampon tax.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak prioritized removing the tax in his March budget, according to CNN.
"I'm proud that we are today delivering on our promise to scrap the tampon tax," he said in a statement.
"Sanitary products are essential so it's right that we do not charge VAT."
Menstrual products are already an additional expense for people who menstruate, and the tampon tax implemented in countries around the world only makes them more unaffordable.
Plan International UK found 1 in 10 girls in the UK can’t afford to buy menstrual products, and 49% have missed an entire day of school because of their period. The average woman in the UK spends £4,916, around $6,360, on menstrual products in a lifetime.
UK activists have called for an end to the discriminatory tax for decades, and in 2016 advocate Laura Coryton launched a petition supporting the effort that received more than 300,000 signatures.
“It feels like a great relief," Coryton told Global Citizen of the UK decision, "because of course politicians say they're going to do things, and you never know if they will follow through and do it.”
Activists cheer as 'sexist' #tampontax is scrapped.— binti_period (@BintiPeriod) January 3, 2021
@LauraCoryton 27, who began campaigning to end the tampon tax when she was 21, told the BBC the move "challenged the negative message that this tax sent to society about women
Every girl deserves dignity, period. #SmashShamepic.twitter.com/iw25K9KPxs
The government has attributed the tampon tax ban as a positive result of Brexit, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, but critics claim that Conservative Party politicians who are taking credit for the move did not initially show support when it was introduced.
“The idea that this is a pro-Brexit campaign does not reflect the mixture of views that everybody who signed this petition has on a lot of issues [including] Brexit,” Coryton said.
The bipartisan campaign and petition put public pressure on then-Prime Minister David Cameron to convince the EU to remove the tax, according to the New York Times. The EU ended up passing a motion to start the legal process of allowing any EU country to remove the tampon tax, Coryton explained.
“If we had stayed in the EU, this could have been a victory not just for the UK but for the entirety of the EU,” she added. “But because of Brexit, it's halted that progress being made across the EU. If anything, Brexit was actually bad for ending the tampon tax.”
Rather galling to see @RishiSunak & Govt take credit for abolition of the tampon tax today. He & 98% of his colleagues voted against the opportunity to scrap it on 26 Oct ‘15. It was a @UKLabour campaign in collaboration w/ @LauraCoryton and other activists. Tories gonna Tory pic.twitter.com/Ycy1SDHfWU— Paula Sherriff 🌈 (@paulasherriff) January 1, 2021
All EU countries have yet to agree upon changing VAT rules to allow each country to stop taxing menstrual products, according to the BBC. Ireland is the only EU country that does not charge the tampon tax because it did not have one in place before joining.
Despite the messaging surrounding the tampon tax decision in the UK, Coryton is pleased that the government delivered. Now she would like to see it more actively promote the scheme implemented in January 2020 that allows schools to provide free menstrual products to students. Many schools don’t even know that they can opt in, she said.
Coryton is also advocating to gain more support for activist Gabby Edlin’s Bloody Good Period campaign to join Scotland in making menstrual products free to anyone who needs them.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of really dealing with the problem of period poverty and period stigma in general,” she said.