Today, at 2pm, a petition with 198,000 signatories found its way to the Chancellor’s desk at No 11, Downing Street. Its cause? To get rid of the luxury VAT tax applied to tampons and sanitary towels across Europe – or, in the words of the petition itself, “stop banning periods“.
Support for the move has been widespread. Pieces calling for the tax to be axed have been shared hundreds of thousands of times, while others have unearthed the products that somehow don’t fall into the HMRC’s “luxury, non-essential” tax category, including flapjacks, exotic meats, bingo, and pitta bread.
Previous calls for action from central government have fallen on deaf ears. In an interview with the Independent today, the founder of the Change.org petition, Laura Coryton, suggested this may be because George Osborne is far more likely to eat exotic meats than use a tampon. But there’s another reason too: under current EU rules, you cannot cut VAT to 0 per cent on any product which is currently taxed under it.
This doesn’t mean that rule couldn’t change: Coryton’s plan is to gain UK government support before taking the campaign to the other 27 EU member countries. But this furore around an EU-specific regulation hasn’t escaped our favourite eurosceptics, Ukip. Last week, a briefing note was found in Nigel Farage’s car that implied the party was in favour of banning the tampon tax, though he hasn’t mentioned it in public yet.
We spoke to the party’s deputy chair of policy, Suzanne Evans, who told us:
I can safely say we are committed to getting rid of the tax. When we leave Europe, we’ll be able to remove it, and rest assured we will.”
Other parties have been less decisive on the matter. When asked about the issue by a student earlier this month, David Cameron said it would be “very difficult to do but I’ll have to go away and have a look and come back to you” (he hasn’t). The Labour party hasn’t made a statement on it. However, a campaign in 2000 to lower the tax rate on tampons and sanitary towels from 17.5 per cent to 5 per cent (the minimum under UK rules) was led by Labour MP Dawn Primarolo and passed by Gordon Brown, the chancellor at the time.
Women may want to think twice before voting Ukip on this basis though – other policies include reducing or scrapping maternity pay, while one MEP said she would get rid of the Minister for Women and Equalities.