I realise that the above statement – particularly the second part – may sound difficult to believe, but it’s true. Particularly when it comes to VAT. Value Added Tax, the tax added to the sale price of ‘luxuries,’ is essentially paid on most things we buy. But the government realises that some things are essential, and these are ‘exempt’ from tax. Others are ‘reduced tax’ - 5%.
It might interest you to know, for example, that books, water supplied to homes, baby wear and betting are all VAT free. Reduced rate is applied, among other things, to women’s sanitary products, which (according to a website in 2010) currently have a 5% VAT charge.
When this unfairness was pointed out to me in Year 8 by a maths teacher, I thought she was just teaching us percentages and ignored her. But now, this ‘reduced rate’ just seems like a slap in the face to me, and a relic of sexism which should be long gone. I mean, I don’t know about you ladies, but I don’t actually choose to bleed once a month. It’s not a luxury that I indulge in; it’s a biological process that makes it possible for me to produce children.
No one would like it if women chose to forgo sanitary products. Despite films, adverts and even the news freely using images of blood, we are as a species apparently very squeamish about menstrual blood. This strange discomfort aside, surely, surely we should be able to accept that women need these products, and make them exempt from tax. 5% to me just suggests that it’s not really that big a deal, but the tax man will help us out anyway. But this means every time I use a sanitary product, the tax man benefits, but if I decide to place a bet on a horse, he doesn’t.
Most people have heard about the Jaffa Cake tribunal – their branding, and the nature of that spongey orangey goodness, affected whether VAT was added. Biscuits: luxury item with VAT, cake: not luxury, VAT free. Personally, whilst I like cake, I think female sanitary products are more important. Likewise, I think they’re more important than shelled nutes, corn based snacks, Bingo and printed music, which are just a few other things that this website informs me are VAT free.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that certain foods, services and goods should be VAT free. I’m not calling for a reversal in VAT policy in general, waving my tampax and demanding total reform. But our society needs to get over its squeamishness over a process that happens to every woman once a month. It’s a health concern, a sanitary concern, and I believe, one of courtesy to women. Don’t tax us for being female.