Tampon tax: Lay off George Osborne. He's on the money with women's #BloodyRefund

George Osborne announced the VAT from tampons would go to women's charities
George Osborne announced the VAT from tampons would go to women's charities

Being a feminist can inspire you to do all sorts of peculiar things. For me, last month, that involved spending an entire evening watching a live broadcast of the tampon tax amendment debate (yes, I am a political geek – and proud).

Tory MP after Tory MP got up to explain what a terribly unfair tax this was – but that, unfortunately, European red tape prevented them from doing anything about it.

Most of these MPs were male, hitherto not known for holding feminist views, and some couldn’t even bring themselves to use the word ‘tampon’. It was clear the debate was being used as a vehicle for slating the EU, rather than a genuine attempt to stand up for women’s rights.

"Women in the UK are still paying out millions of pounds a year in ‘luxury taxes’ for the privilege of mopping up their menstruation".

Technically, of course, they’re right – arcane EU tax laws prevent the Government from slashing the current 5 per cent VAT rate on sanitary products. Scrapping the tax would require a great deal of lobbying and European consensus –  though I’m yet to see evidence that UK officials have made any real effort to push for change in this area.

It struck me that the status quo just wasn’t good enough. Regardless of whether the treasury wanted to collect the VAT, women in the UK were still collectively paying out millions of pounds a year in ‘luxury taxes’ for the privilege of mopping up their menstruation.

Women campaign for an end to tampon tax

I wanted women to get that money back. We deserve a refund until the day the tax is scrapped entirely.

So I did what every self-respecting millennial with a cause does – started an online campaign. Called #BloodyRefund, it asked George Osborne to donate all proceeds from the tampon tax to women’s charities.

The campaign picked up momentum, and was retweeted by politicians, feminists, and economic commentators. I started to make long-term plans for sanitary towel ‘lobbying’ postcards and demonstrations.

But I couldn’t have predicted what would happen next.

George Osborne only bloody went ahead and did what we’d asked. Yesterday, in the Spending Review, the Chancellor announced that all VAT paid on sanitary products would be donated to women’s charities.

Unfortunately, he immediately went on to compare this to the way Libor fines – levied on banking charlatans – are also passed on to good causes. Funnily enough, women were a bit furious about the suggestion that causing an international banking crisis was somehow comparable to having your period.

But still. Fifteen million pounds a year to women’s charities.

I have no idea if Osborne ever heard about our cheeky campaign, or whether the policy was dreamed up independently at the treasury. I’m simply glad that the ‘luxury’ tax I pay for the ‘privilege’ of being a pre-menopausal woman will go to a good home.

Of course, a lot of women were very angry about the announcement – and I understand. We shouldn’t be in a situation where women have to fund ‘women’s problems’ - Rape Crisis shelters at risk of closure and domestic violence refuges. Especially when many of these resources are largely only needed because of male violence.

Women’s charities are desperate for money, and this situation has been caused by devastating cuts to council and social care budgets. Yesterday’s spending review contained policies that will continue this trend.

Jenny McComb

So while I believe he’s done the right thing in the short-term, let’s not paint the Chancellor as some kind of hero – he’s giving to women with one hand, while grabbing resources back with the other. Fifteen million is nowhere NEAR enough to plug the gap. 

But it is a start. I’d rather see incremental change than no change at all. Now, I want to see an assurance from the Chancellor that the funding will continue even if the tax is scrapped – women’s charities shouldn’t be left in the lurch.

And after that? Maybe the ‘refund’ to women’s charities should be backdated to 2000, when the VAT rate was last changed. It seems only fair.

As they say up here in Newcastle, ‘shy bairns get nowt’. If you’re with me, please do get in touch.