Five of the most controversial VAT decisions

Luxury or necessity?

(2) Tampons

If the UK votes to leave the EU in June, you can be certain that at least part of the explanation will lie with sanitary products.

Though David Cameron secured the agreement of the European Union on abolishing the tax on sanitary products in March, the issue had already heated up and attracted protests from an unlikely alliance of feminists, Labour MPs and pro-Brexit Conservative backbenchers. A petition to abolish the tax attracted more than 300,000 signatures.

VAT is currently charged at a reduced five per cent on tampons bought in the UK – and has been since 2001 when the last campaign against it succeeded in getting the rate lowered. This was the lowest amount allowed in Europe until Cameron’s recent victory.

The chancellor announced in his 2015 Autumn Statement that the £15m revenue raised from the controversial levy while he continued to fight it would be passed on to womens’ charities including Eve Appeal, SafeLives and Women’s Aid.

Strangely, while UK politicians have been fighting for the right to reduce it, French MPs were – until recently – still convinced that sanitary products should be treated as luxury items. The first time the National Assembly in Paris voted on the matter, a bill proposing to lower the tax from 20 per cent to 5.5 was rejected on the grounds it would damage the public purse.

The Australian government also overturned proposals to abolish a ten per cent tax on sanitary products in August 2015 – even though a rap was composed in support of the campaign. The debate is particularly contentious down under because condoms are exempt from the sales tax.

Contraceptives and other bathroom cabinet essentials like toilet paper are still liable for VAT at 20 per cent in the UK – perhaps explaining why some politicians felt the need to claim for them on expenses.

Do personal pornography viewing booths count as cultural venues? Find out on the next page.

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