A motion to scrap the so-called ‘tampon tax’ was defeated in the Commons on Monday. The motion, an amendment to the government’s Finance Bill, proposed by Labour MP Paula Sherriff, was opposed by every Conservative MP barring three. The motion’s proponents were beaten by 305 votes to 287.
Currently, tampons and other sanitary items are classed as a ‘luxuries’ by the EU, and are taxed at 5%. Items such as men’s razors are classed as ‘essential’ items, and have zero tax applied to them. Campaigners have called out the discrepancy as sexist, resulting in the proposed amendment.
If the amendment had passed, the UK would have been compelled to open negotiations with the EU in order to amend the mandated tax. Reports circulated before the vote that the government could be defeated, as Eurosceptic MPs would vote in favour of the amendment in order to bring to light the power of Europe over domestic affairs.
The amendment was prompted by a petition to Downing Street, signed by 250,000 people, which called on George Osborne to ‘Stop taxing periods. Period’. 22 year-old Laura Coryton, who started the petition, wrote that ‘sanitary products should join [the] list of essential, tax exempt products, which include ‘helicopters’, ‘alcoholic jellies’ and ‘exotic meats including crocodile and kangaroo’’.
While the motion did not pass, and women are still subject to the 5% tax on sanitary items, the debate did prove fruitful in some ways.
First, the Treasury has promised to discuss the issue with the EU Commission. A last minute compromise by David Gauke persuaded many Tory rebels to listen to the whip. However, campaigners are hailing the promise of an EU discussion as a triumph.
More amusingly, and perhaps more importantly, Stella Creasy managed to get 75 year-old Sir Bill Cash, who was in favour of scrapping the tax, to actually say the word tampon, after his comic repetition of the word ‘products’.
Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain; periods are no longer an unspoken ‘women’s issue’. Tampons and sanitary towels are no longer items to be hidden at the bottom of a shopping basket.