Political Periods: A sequel in Brexit propaganda
Brexiteer MPs are guilty of misleading the public once again after falsely accrediting the abolition of the tampon tax to the UK’s departure from the EU. Niamh Walsh discusses the frustration around such political manipulation.
On January 1st 2021, the 5% rate of VAT on sanitary products (commonly known as the ‘tampon tax’) was abolished in the UK; a fantastic and progressive step forward in ending a sexist tax that deemed period products as non-essential, luxury items. Whilst this is a tremendous achievement for women in the UK, especially campaigner Laura Coryton who began her crusade in 2014, it is also disappointing that the abolishment of the tax has been framed as a result of the UK leaving the EU.
The Conservative chairman of the Commons liaison select committee, Sir Bernard Jenkin, commented about the tax, expressing that it’s only been made possible because “we’re leaving the EU”, which is simply not the case. Whilst existing EU law stated that members were prevented from reducing VAT below 5%, in 2016 the European parliament did vote unanimously to start the process of allowing any EU country to abolish tampon tax, and so the framing of it by Conservative politicians as something that has been enabled by Brexit is frustrating. It also dims the light on the activists who have been campaigning to abolish the tax for years, including the 320,000 people who had signed the petition, as well as the hard work of female MPs such as Paula Sherriff, who in March 2016 successfully pushed parliament into creating a legislation to eliminate the tampon VAT.
Some politicians… have used this achievement as pro-Brexit propaganda when in reality, they had previously voted against the abolishment of tampon tax.
Chief campaigner of ‘Stop Taxing Periods’, Laura Coryton, is especially irritated by the reaction of some politicians who have used this achievement as pro-Brexit propaganda when in reality, they had previously voted against the abolishment of tampon tax. She said, “It’s great that the government is taking it really seriously – if the prime minister can talk about periods, surely anyone can talk about periods, but it’s frustrating … to make this campaign into a pro-Brexit thing, because it doesn’t reflect the many different types of people who have been campaigning for it”. Coryton actually argues that overall, Brexit has hindered the process of abolishing tampon tax in the EU. David Cameron had proposed and was pushing the EU to eradicate the unfair tax when the UK voted to leave; this significantly delayed the process. Coryton believes that if the UK had stayed in the EU, then this piece of legislation would have successfully gone through and not just benefitted women in the UK, but women all over Europe.
However, this milestone should still be celebrated, regardless of how it has been spun by MPs into a victory of Brexit. As Mary-Ann Stephenson of the Women’s Budget Group says, “The tampon tax has long been a symbol of policymaking based around men’s needs, so removing VAT is symbolically important”. The removal of this tax is a step towards a more equal and fair society, and the hard work, skills and collaboration of the incredible women who campaigned for it should be recognised and commended.