The Menstrual (Tax) Cycle

The Autumn Statement and Spending Review was delivered to Parliament by Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, on Wednesday. Amongst the various budgetary announcements came the promise that the much-debated £15 million raised through the tampon tax – the VAT that must be paid on tampons due to their status as “luxury products” – will now be used to fund women’s charities. This includes domestic violence services and rape crisis centres.

The announcement was instantly met with negativity, with Labour MP Jess Phillips reportedly shouting: “You’re not paying it George: I am!” And online, the responses have been similar, with women throughout the country accusing Osborne and the Tory government of making it “women’s duty” to fund support for key services such as women’s mental health, domestic abuse and rape crisis centres. These services have recently been facing closures and budget issues due to funding cuts to local authorities, thanks to the Tory’s Austerity measures. Women are being turned away - and back into the arms of danger. Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of Refuge, says that since 2011 the organisation has experienced a reduction in funding across 80% of its service contracts.

Instead of being held accountable for the endangerment of vulnerable women, Osborne has instead passed the responsibility back to women. We bleed, we buy tampons, and the VAT pays for the services that we may one day need if we face domestic violence or sexual abuse, or suffer from a mental illness. It is a cycle – one that will now cause women to become reliant on the absurd VAT on menstrual products in order to keep our much-needed services alive. Why can’t VAT from men’s razors go to women’s shelters? Why not any of the other products that are considered a luxury? To add insult to injury, in making this “ground-breaking” (yes – that’s an adjective that one newspaper actually used to describe this) announcement, Osborne compared using the tampon tax for women’s charities with the way fines paid by banks over the Libor scandal were handed to charities. So not only are we expected to pay for our own potentially life-saving services, the language being used to describe this process compares it to getting a fine, or paying a penalty.

I have no doubt that Osborne and the Tory government genuinely believed that they were doing women a favour by directing the tampon tax back into women’s services. But in being taxed for something so necessary for many women during their menstrual cycle, it is implies that we have control over our biology. Tampons being considered a luxury is more that ridiculous – it is offensive. Sweetening the deal by funding charities is not a move in the right direction; it is borderline victim-blaming.

Words by Sophie Elliott

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