Stop Taxing Periods. Period.

Thu 12th June , 2014 in News

A campaign has launched on Change.org regarding the taxation of sanitary products.

“The Government taxes the masses of people who have periods, but not for enjoying a lean crocodile steak. Does placing exotic meats above sexual hygiene truly reflect society’s values?

A 5% tax rate has been placed on sanitary products, while exotic meats walk tax-free. HM Revenue and Customs justify this rate by labelling these sexual health products as ‘non-essential’ items. The annual tax revenue from sanitary products can be estimated as £45 million. This is 0.0076% of tax revenue, or put another way accounts for 76 pence in every £10,000. Imagine what the charities woman’s aid, refuge or womankind could achieve with £45 million pounds!

It is a choice to use sanitary products. However, in order to maintain a successful career and a normal lifestyle, sanitary care is most definitely essential. The Government are failing to recognise this as an issue, refusing to subsidise such a medical necessity, and have the audacity to tax you for making this ‘choice’.

This fight is far from hopeless. The Government reduced their tax rate from 17.5% in 2001, following pressure to keep inline with EU regulations. Let’s pressure them further to reduce this to 0%. Sanitary products would then be able to join HM Revenue & Custom’s list of ‘essential’ tax free items, alongside: men’s razors; alcoholic dessert jellies; crucial edible cake decorations (specifying chocolate scrolls and sugar flowers amongst other imperative appetising delights); and everybody’s favourite and all important selection of exotic meats.

So, which do you value more: your sexual hygiene or your crocodile steak?”

To sign the petition, please click here.

Further, we have written to our Bristol’s MPs – Kerry McCarthy, Charlotte Leslie, Rt Hon Dawn Primarolo and Stephen Williams to support this campaign stating the following:

Bristol Women’s Voice is contacting you following concerns over your Parliament’s current tax allocations on sanitary products, which have been set at 5% since 2001 due to their “non-essentiality”. While alcoholic dessert jellies, edible sugar flowers and exotic meats have all been considered “essential” enough by HMRC to enjoy a zero per cent VAT rate, the importance of sanitary hygiene has been ignored. Bristol Women’s Voice supports a campaign on the subject:

https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/george-osborne-stop-taxing-periods-period

This brought to our attention what seems like an abhorrent and self-evident flaw in the current tax system. The campaign was launched on 19th May, and has since received over 35,000 supporters. We are fighting to reverse institutionalised sexism and challenge the Parliamentary myth that those who experience menstruation can simply live without sanitary products. We aim to ensure that menstruation does not disrupt a normal, hygienic and productive life and hope your party does too.

This issue is very important to the millions of people who use sanitary products with regards to maintaining a successful career and basic social interaction.

The House of Commons established that sanitary products are far from “luxury items” in 2000 (http://www.parliament.uk/edm/1999-00/850), and so it would therefore, in our opinion, make principal and practical sense to change the system. We understand that there may be complications with EU regulations regarding the lowering of tax to 0%. However, we hope you agree that such legislation is worth challenging and join fellow MPs, such as Stella Creasy, who support our campaign and believe it is an important issue worth tackling.

We very much hope that you will support us by pledging interest for the campaign and raising this issue with your constituency, local government and party leader to promote non-gendered tax allocations. ”

We have had the following responses:

Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East

Thanks for getting in touch. Over the years, there have been a number of campaigns challenging the application of VAT to sanitary products, and for understandable reasons, given the additional cost that many will struggle with, the gender inequity and the inference by some that sanitary products are somehow not an “essential item”. So I certainly understand why the petition has gained such strong support, and why Bristol Women’s Voice is campaigning on this. Indeed, I would like to see it changed, but unfortunately it is unlikely to happen in the near future.

It was the previous Labour Government that reduced VAT on sanitary products from the standard rate (then 17.5%, now 20%) to 5% in 2001 in response to the campaigns and as a step towards gender equality in the tax system. This was the lowest rate the Government could reduce it to due to EU legislation (which means it cannot be scrapped altogether) so it was not because Treasury Ministers took the decision to designate sanitary products as a “luxury” item.

European Union law requires all EU countries to have similar VAT systems. All members must apply a standard rate of at least 15%, and we have the option of applying a reduced rate to certain specified products, providing it is no lower that 5%. Some products have a zero rate but the UK and Republic of Ireland are rare among EU states in having a zero-rate, and the UK agreed not to extend this to any additional products other than those that were zero-rated in 1975.

I appreciate that it may seem a frustrating, and indeed strange situation that VAT has progressed relatively little over the years. The regulations have been discussed among the EU on several occasions, but it is important that all member states agree a policy so the reduced rate is the best possible option at the moment. The current Government has also been asked about this, but they have confirmed again that it would require the unanimous consent of the 28 member states. Sadly it seems unlikely that the UK would be able to secure unanimous agreement, particularly as relations with other EU members are not good at the moment.

I am sorry that this is a disappointing reply, but I hope it at least helps to explain the anomaly – if not to justify it. Nevertheless, I hope that Ministers will recognise that the campaign is an indication of how women are being affected by the rising cost of living, as well as it being a stand against discrimination, and I hope that there may be an opportunity in the future to discuss this with our European partners.

Charlotte Leslie, Conservative MP for Bristol North West:

I agree that this is an important issue to many women and very much appreciate the points you make.

However, I have been informed that it is not within the UK Government’s power to reduce the already discounted 5 per cent rate of VAT charged on women’s sanitary products.

This is because VAT law is governed by the EU, with EU legislation determining a very specific set of products which may be zero-rated (have no VAT). As a result, the EU does not allow the UK, or any other member state, to extend unilaterally the scope of existing zero rates or to introduce new ones.

Consequently, the current 5 per cent rate of VAT on women’s sanitary products is the lowest rate allowed under EU law.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. I will closely at any other ways this issue could perhaps be addressed.

Best regards

Charlotte Leslie

Dawn Primarolo – Labour MP for Bristol South

You may be interested to know that I am already working with Stella Creasy MP on this campaign.

I was the Treasury Minister who reduced VAT from 17.5% to 5% on sanitary protection in 2001.  The reason I went to 5% and not zero is:

  •  VAT is a European Administered Tax.  All EU states apply the rules as agreed with the European Union.
  •  Annex III of the Directive allows reduced rates – not less than 5%.
  •  It was a condition of entry into the European Economic Community, agreed by the then Conservative Government in 1973, that Britain applied these rules.  At the time a once and for all negotiation also agreed that Britain could keep a zero rate in Food, Children’s clothes, Newspapers and Books, energy (later given up by the Conservative Government in the 1990s) and Public Transport.
  •  It is not permitted to introduce new zero rates.  Sanitary protection was left out of the zero rates.
  •  In order to get below 5% the VAT Directive needs to be changed at a European level and all member states would need to agree.

Can I suggest therefore that you may like to contact Clare Moody, recently elected MEP for the South West, along with the male MEPs elected in the South West, and enlist their help in changing the VAT Directive by raising this matter in the European Parliament, putting a proposal forward to ECOFIN or The European Council for agreement? The new MEPs take office on 1 July 2014.

Dawn Primarolo

Bristol Women’s Voice will contact our MEPs to enlist their help in raising this matter in the European Parliament.

Responses from South West MEP’s

Molly Scott Cato: Green MEP for South West England
Thanks for your email and I am delighted to hear about the campaign to end the charging of VAT on sanitary products. It has long infuriated me and I wish the campaign every success.

I have only recently started as an MEP and there is a lot of legislation out there. We have a committee of the parliament specifically dedicated to women’s issues and I will check with them what approach might be possible at the European level….

I have had a response from a Green member of the women’s committee. She said:

‘At the moment they are rather fighting to have less exceptions to the normal VAT. So I don’t think that there was a debate so far in the Greens and to be honest neither in the feminist circles that I am aware of.’

It sounds like the priority at the moment is to build up pressure for the campaign and raise its profile. This can sometimes be done effectively through the Citizens’ Initiative process. This is a way to put pressure on the Commission to begin legislation in a certain area. You can find out more here: http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/basic-facts

Best wishes
Molly

Ashley Fox, MEP for the South West of England & Gibraltar

I am very supportive of your campaign but this kind of proposal is best coming via the European Council and, as such, I am proposing to write to the Chancellor asking that this proposal be put forward at the earliest opportunity.

I can assure you that I will also be discussing this matter with my colleagues in the European Parliament.

I will, of course, let you know once I receive a response.

Kind regards

Ashley Fox

Stay tuned!

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