In the last few years that has been an increase in public awareness about the so-called ‘tampon tax’. The tampon tax is not actually a specific tax on tampons, but a decision by the Treasury to classify tampons as ‘luxury items’ and thus liable for VAT. Although I am not a woman, I am somewhat aware of what my sisters go through on a monthly basis and to say that tampons are a luxury item is fucking ridiculous. However to add insult to injury, it has been revealed that some of the money from the Treasury has been funneled into the coffers of the anti-abortion group Life. Unacceptable doesn’t cover how unjust this situation is.
First of all let’s talk about how unjust the tampon tax is. According to research reported in The Huffington Post, women will spend over £18,000 on tampon over the course of their lifetimes. To be honest I, being ignorant of these matters, thought that the figure would be much higher but the actual number is irrelevant. Women are forced to pay £18,000 over the course of their lives for something that they have no real control over.
I would argue that this is a question of justice. The most often used comparison is that there is VAT on tampons, but condoms, dental dams and the contraceptive pill are all available on the NHS free of charge, and rightly so. This shows that the state treats women differently to men, but also that the state is more comfortable with people having sex than women simply existing. As fun as sex is, it is conceivable that people go through their lives and never use a condom, but a woman never having a period is significantly harder than refraining from sex.
But let’s make the question more abstract. In a just society, would people be financially penalised for a biological process largely out of their control? I would argue no. In my mind this not only extents to exempting tampons from VAT, but making tampons available free of charge on the NHS. This would be beneficial for everyone. The government would spend less money on tampons because the NHS could place bulk orders, and women would have more money in their pockets. I’m not an economist but I’m sure that there is money in the UK government’s budget to make this into a reality.
But back to the issue at hand. The current amount of VAT on tampons is 5%, and raises around £15 million, and since 2015 the government has donated the money to women’s health charities. In 2016 Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that £3 million of that figure would be donated to Comic Relief, thus leaving £12 million to be distributed. The government has said that this money has “benefited 70 UK charities” but included in these charities is the non-profit organisation Life, which has been the recipient of a £250,000 grant.
Life is an organisation that says on its website that “we won’t give up until those facing difficult pregnancies can choose life and abortion is a thing of the past”. To be clear the money that was given to Life was for a project to help homeless women in London, and this is a worthwhile use of money. But, there are a number of charities that could have received this money that do not want to restrict a woman’s right to choose.
For example, Shelter operate in London and work with Women’s Aid to support homeless women. Look Ahead is another charity that seeks to end women’s homelessness and uses donations to operate assessment centres and provide specialist accommodation. Finally, Hestia works to support women who are the victims of domestic violence and abuse, which are some of the major causes of women’s homelessness.
I’m not saying that Life were not doing something worthwhile with the money, I’m saying that the state should be funding, either directly or indirectly, an organisation that wants to restrict women’s rights, especially from funds raised from such an unjust tax. Life should have every right to continue operating as an organisation because they are lobbying the government in accordance with their political principles. But they should not receive assistance from the state. Even if their activities are assisting women’s health, that is better than being used to lobby the government, but there a number of alternative organisations where there is no ethical question mark.