Britain became the latest country to abolish the so-called “tampon tax” on Friday, eliminating sales taxes on women’s sanitary products.
The move was widely praised by women’s rights advocates as well as proponents of the country’s departure from the European Union.
Treasury chief Rishi Sunak had committed to ending the widely unpopular tax on tampons and sanitary pads in his budget in March but the change could only take effect Friday after Britain had finally left the economic orbit of the European Union.
Under EU law, nations cannot reduce the rate of value-added tax on menstrual products below 5 per cent as they are deemed to be luxury items and not essentials.
Ireland is the only EU country that does not charge a levy on sanitary products as its zero tax rate was in place before the EU set its floor.
“Sanitary products are essential, so it’s right that we do not charge VAT,” said Sunak. “We have already rolled out free sanitary products in schools, colleges, and hospitals and this commitment takes us another step closer to making them available and affordable for all women.”
Britain officially left the bloc’s vast single market for people, goods and services at 11 pm GMT on Thursday, giving it greater scope to set its own laws. A new UK-EU trade deal will bring new restrictions and red tape, but for British Brexit supporters, it means reclaiming national independence from the EU and its rules. They pointed to the abolition of the tampon tax as an early positive change from Brexit.
But Gemma Abbot from the Free Periods campaign group said it was “misleading” for the UK government to say Brexit was necessary to eliminate VAT on menstrual products.
“Actually this was something that was very much up for grabs within the context of our EU relationship,” she told Euronews.
“David Cameron back in 2016 had convinced his fellow EU leaders that changes did need to be made to the European VAT system as a whole to allow for the zero-rating of VAT products, and everybody agreed that, and actually the Commission made proposals in 2018 for significant VAT reform.
“I think one of the main reasons why we haven’t seen that implemented yet is because of the enormous distraction of Brexit.”
Britain’s treasury has previously estimated the move will save the average woman nearly £40 (€45) over her lifetime,
“It’s been a long road to reach this point, but at last, the sexist tax that saw sanitary products classed as nonessential, luxury items can be consigned to the history books,” said Felicia Willow, chief of the Fawcett Society, a women’s rights charity.
Many other countries have also eliminated the tampon tax, including Australia, Canada and India. In the United States, several states including New York and Florida have also nixed the tax.