About a week ago I found myself in Sainsbury’s. Whilst perusing the aisles for my dinner, I had the awful realisation that I was shit broke, and would have to make a fateful decision on this seemingly quiet Tuesday night: dinner or tampons.
This may sound a tad dramatic, but I had £1 and it was a choice between 37p crumpets and 50p tin of beans (a tragic dinner in itself) or a £1 packet of rather rough, value tampons. Of course, I went for the tampons as otherwise my bedroom would have resembled a scene from CSI, and thus artfully extracted 2 pieces of bread from my flatmate’s cupboard for a luxurious dinner of toast and butter.
After years of being a student and forcing my mother to stockpile Always and Tampax during holidays to take back with me, I slowly realised that this economic burden now lay upon my shoulders. FOR THE REST OF MY FERTILE LIFE.
This ridiculous choice rattled me, purely out of the unfairness: I, like every other woman, didn’t choose to bleed for 5 days each month, yet I am slapped with the cost and tax on sanitary goods month on month. Incontinence pads are subject to tax relief, yet sanitary goods see a 5% tax: basically the government saying ‘you can piss yourself, that’s an acceptable thing to harp on about, but when it comes to a natural process that only affects one sex…’
I asked around for similar experiences, and Cristina, a 21-year-old student, enlightened me as to her tampon woes:
‘My student loan has been held up for the entire first term, so I’ve been living off minimal savings since September. Running my [pill] packs [together] is a viable option as how can I afford to buy a shit load of tampons and pads when I can just about afford my student accommodation?!’
UAE Student Union announced in 2014 that they would be selling tampons at a discounted price, to help out female students. The fact that this enterprising scheme even have to be set up is testament to the fact that many women all over the UK are suffering as a result of the taxation of tampons.
A few other little anecdotes from various Twitter and Facebook acquaintances included:
‘My local Brewdog has free tampons in the toilets, so I take them’
‘Tampons are taxed more than a lottery ticket and men’s razors: how is this justified?’
‘When you keep taking your next pill packet and skipping periods because contraception’s free and tampons aren’t #yasmin’
And the classic…
‘They’re bleeding me dry’
Now, I have a good grad job in London: I’m not living on the breadline or visiting food banks. However, my cost of living has near tripled since moving to the capital, and I always find myself short. This led me to think, realistically, what are those who ARE living in poverty doing about this situation that blights them month on month?
Around 3.7 million children in Britain are now living in poverty, according to Child Poverty Action Group. In terms of menstruation, this is a key time for many young girls, who are just beginning their periods and learning to accept their changing bodies. This should be a time to celebrate becoming a woman, and celebrate the wonder of fertility, not to view periods as an economic burden. Having to ask your mother to purchase sanitary goods (that are taxed as non-essential) when she can barely afford to pay the rent is not a situation that young girls should be put in. It instils a feeling of shame, a feeling of asking for a luxury during a time of austerity.
This contributes to period shame: girls learn from a young age that they, and their bodily needs, are not valued by the government or the tax system. Girl’s menstrual needs are valued lower than EXOTIC MEAT by the tax system, which is exempt. We are less important than a bloody Kangaroo burger, guys: it’s a bit tragic.
Men’s razors, however: that’s all cool. You keep shaving bros, that’s “essential” according to HMRC.
An article in Stylist magazine argued last month that tax on sanitary goods are not something that we should oppose, as tax contributes to wider society (Mangan also details that she ‘didn’t want to put [her] name to something so… vulgar’, but that rant is for another day). I mean, I’m all for tax: what would we do without the NHS, roads, and local amenities? But unjust tax is a different matter. Caitlin Moran brings up a great point in ‘How To Be A Woman’ that is rather pertinent in respects to tampon taxation. Viewing everyday acts of sexism as part of the Broken Window Theory, she details how one act of sexism will open doors to other small, but significant acts, that result in the entire metaphorical building of society being infested with latent sexism. If we sit back and accept this slight against woman, what will follow? We moan about Council Tax increases, Mansion Tax proposals, Bedroom Tax…well, now, as politicians desperately seek the female vote in the run-up to the general election, it’s time to publicly voice our opposition to Period Tax.
Just as those who have a spare bedroom feel as though they shouldn’t be taxed for not using it all of the time, the same applies to women. My womb is my spare room, and I should not be taxed because I do not use it to house a child.