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RHUL Protests the ‘Tampon Tax’

Students at Royal Holloway protesting against the tampon tax.
Students at Royal Holloway protesting against the tampon tax.

Tuesday 1st December saw RHUL Women’s and Marginalised Gender’s Network and FemSoc take to Windsor Building for a protest against the tampon tax.

Throughout the past few months, groups across the country have raised the profile of the issue surrounding the “tampon tax” through protests and demonstrations to a point that it has finally gained some government attention.

For those that don’t know, in the UK, items classed as ‘essentials’, such as children’s clothes and most foods, are untaxed. On the other hand, non-essential ‘luxury’ items have tax placed on them, usually the standard 20% VAT but sometimes a reduced rate of 5%. Although it would be nicer to spend less money on things, that makes sense, right?

So just to delve into this a little bit further, an essential is something vital for a normal life, something that allows a person to function on a daily basis. It’s a necessity that serves a practical rather than aesthetic function. A luxury though, is something that isn’t necessary and you could realistically do without. Most of the time luxuries provide some comfort or have some other value.

Now when you think of women’s sanitary products – pads and tampons – which category should they go into? Essentials, surely?


Apparently, sanitation items are a luxury and so experience 5% taxation. Whilst this is lower than the standard rate, as it still apparently has to be in line with EU regulations, sanitary items are taxed.

Spending an extra 10 or 20p per box of pads or tampons is a nuisance and you would save a considerable amount of money over a lifetime without it, but the issue here isn’t the money as much as the principle underlying it; the idea that pads and tampons are seen as luxuries in a country where Jaffa Cakes, kangaroo meat, magazines and aircraft repairs are all seen as essentials.


Because of this, Natasha Barrett of the Women’s and Marginalised Gender’s Network at RoHo, and head of FemSoc, Tegan Marlow organised a protest.


In comparison to the recent protests outside Parliament, it took a far more subtle approach, asking students to pose for photos with signs or whiteboards to raise awareness of the issue.

FemSoc’s Teagan said, “I guess periods have always been a taboo subject that people really don’t like discussing, which is why nobody has said anything about the tax before. But the fact that this is something that affects half the population and we have to pay extra money for good quality sanitation is just ridiculous. Crocodile meat and Jaffa cakes are supposedly necessities that don’t need to be taxed, but us keeping clean and dignified every month isn’t? Makes no sense.”

In the past few weeks, George Osborne made an attempt to appease protesters by proposing to use the taxed profits to help victims of domestic violence instead. Perhaps it’s a nice idea on the surface but it fatally flawed. It shows a clear lack of governmental funding in a key area where an issue needs to be tackled.

On top of this, domestic violence is certainly not a gender-specific issue, with more and more males having the courage to come forward as victims in recent years. By implementing a system where funds from female-specific products are used, all that will happen is this progress will be reversed and domestic violence will further be seen as a ‘female problem’ when it is widespread and affecting many.

FemSoc’s Tegan commented on the matter, “It’s like the government are just shifting the problem so they don’t have to take care of it – they don’t want to have to use their budget to fund these centres, so they’re going to use women’s tampon money instead. It’s almost like emotional black mail – if we pay less money for a cheaper brand of tampon, that means less money is going to help women. And I don’t fancy being guilt tripped every time I go to Tesco!”

Periods aren’t exactly a luxury, they’re gruelling, painful and messy – not something that you ask for or want to deal with, so why should those who get periods have to pay extra to simply cope with something that’s part of their biology? It’s subjecting half of the population to an unfair tax and this needs to be changed.