Seeing Red: The Tampon Tax

Maisie Barker

Last night, despite a petition to scrap it accumulating over 250,000 signatures, MPs voted to keep the 5% tax on menstrual products in the UK.

The reasoning behind the delightfully alliterative ‘Tampon Tax’ is one that is certain to rustle the jimmies of everyone who has ever had to rush to Tesco with particularly bad cramps. They’re considered a ‘luxury’.

I don’t know about you, but to me a luxury is something like a gold-plated swan or a life-size statue of Tom Hiddleston made entirely out of chocolate. Not some cotton that you use to absorb your menstrual fluid.

But maybe I’m just spoiled. Clearly the MPs who voted against sharing a catering service because it would mean switching to a lower quality of champagne have a better understanding of luxury than you or I do.

It shouldn’t need to be explained how menstrual products aren’t a luxury. Condoms rightfully became free from sexual health clinics (and many LGBT venues) in the wake of rapidly rising HIV cases. Toilet paper is made available in all public toilets. But for menstrual products you’ll have to fork out.

The tax on menstrual products has a huge impact on those who are homeless or on low incomes in particular. Charities find that those without the money to afford such products often have to resort to toilet paper (when it’s available) or even newspaper. The health risks of not having access to clean and sanitary products include infection or toxic shock syndrome, which can lead to organ failure and septicaemia.

But even those without money troubles will be shocked to find the full cost of simply having a period that you never asked for and can’t get rid of. Campaigners claim that the average woman will spend over £18,000 on sanitary products in their lifetime, of which nearly £1,000 is tax.

MPs have agreed to negotiate the tax with the EU and point out that Britain has the lowest menstrual tax in Europe. But this is still a tax that unfairly impacts a section of the population which is already hugely impacted by cuts and is more likely to live below the poverty line.

Long-term alternatives to pads or tampons include menstrual cups – which last longer but include a higher initial cost that many cannot afford. Tampons and sanitary pads also have an environmental cost that needs to be addressed. But until then, the EU tax on menstrual products is, as campaigners have rightfully called it, a tax on having a uterus.

Check out the petition to end the tampon tax at

About Maisie Barker

23 year old student dividing her time between Manchester and London. Studied English and Creative Writing, hoping to pay the rent with it one day. Likes horror films, reading and spending my student loan on clothes. Dislikes spiders and people with topknots.

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