An Open Letter to David Cameron on the Tampon Tax

What follows is an open letter to David Cameron from Alicia Hannah about the tampon tax. Alicia is a member of St. Helens Young Labour. On top of being a 17 year old student, she is an avid feminist with dreams of a career in journalism. Whilst swimming in articles for her own blog she juggles a part-time job in Cath Kidston with a keen interest in legal matters.

Dear Mr Cameron,

There is no better feeling than settling down after a hard day at work (you of all people should be able to relate), running yourself a hot bath (is it true you have a jacuzzi in Downing Street?), and popping an Always or two on your eyes (I mean, we all deserve a bit of luxury now and again, don’t we?). Apologies for the assumption, but surely you have enough money for a lot of luxuries… you know, considering your government is pocketing 5% of all sanitary products in tax.

As many women will agree, there is nothing luxurious about menstruating – so why are you, the government, taxing sanitary products like there is?

Let’s get down to the harsh facts. The average woman buys, uses, and throws away 11,000 tampons during her lifetime. In my local Tesco, a box of 20 regular Tampax costs £3.14. This means that someone earning minimum wage must work approximately 38 full working days to pay for her lifetime’s supply. However, it’s not just tampons that you’re cashing in on, sanitary towels are also counted as a luxury meaning 5% of this cost is tax. That’s right, ladies. We’re being taxed for a natural process that is out of our control. What’s next? Tax on the weather? You do the maths, Dave.

Humour me, Prime Minister, how are products such as these counted as luxuries when ‘exotic meats such as kangaroo and crocodile’ and ‘edible sugared flowers’ are tax-exempt? Ah, I see, I didn’t realise crocodile crumpets are an every day essential on your side of the street. It also seems you have quite the hobbies Dave, considering bingo, houseboat moorings and printing leaflets are also free from tax.

Oh, and before I forget, just a warning to all present and prospective mums-to-be out there – you now get taxed 5% on maternity pads. Yes, you heard correctly. Come on Dave… is procreation counted as a crime now? I suppose you’ve already imposed a tariff on our toddlers before they are even born, so why stop now? And Mr Prime Minister, before you jet off to your next appearance, remind me – why are helicopters tax-exempt yet tampons aren’t? Ah yes, I understand now, I mean, how else would one travel from one side of the UK to the other? Via Plane? Train? Car? – You’re right, how utterly ridiculous!

May you, Mr Cameron, please imagine for a moment that your beloved wife, Samantha, is homeless. Bad enough, I know, but imagine her having to struggle through her monthly cycle with no means to help or access sanitary products, as they are taxed as luxuries. Now don’t worry, you can relax! You’re back to reality and such a thought is preposterous, right? Wrong. Many women each year become homeless, with 1 in 11 people who are sleeping rough in your hometown of London being female. If you’re a woman living on the street, having a period isn’t a hassle – it’s a nightmare. If you can’t muddle together enough money for food or shelter, it is unlikely you’ll be able to afford sanitary towels or tampons. For ladies sleeping rough, sanitary ware or any kind of period ephemera is scarce. Yes SamCam, that means no hot water bottle, no enormous Dairy Milk bar or Bridget Jones film to cry to, just the sad reality of a woman trying to make the best of a traumatic experience with no resources to aid her. That’s right Davey Boy, I’m looking at you for this one.

Now David, let’s take ourselves to a little familiar place in our minds called Parliament. He-who-shall-not-be-named (your nemesis Jeremy Corbyn), stands in the red corner of the Commons, and you, in the blue. You’re debating over the tampon tax, you and George shouting that 5% is the lowest that you can go, and Jeremy with his little white poppy fighting back with every fact and figure in the book. Suddenly, there is a stampede (I’m sure the Conservative party whip would have something to say about the noise but humour me for the sake of hypothetical speaking). It’s 8 furious LibDem MPs, pens in hand, ready to sign the amendment on the tampon tax, “We’re voting for this amendment because it is the right thing to do” they chant. Yes PM, this is what defeat feels like. So, do you want to be defeated by mob of mavericks, or do you want to man the campaign? With just over 50% of the populace being female, you’re guaranteed support. You’re not after a campaign manager are you… *cough cough*

So, what do tampons have to do with politics anyway?

Well… back in 2000 (we’re talking pre-historic here, I mean BEFORE the iPhone…) a little sanitary knight in absorbent cotton armour led a courageous campaign (against all odds) to lower the VAT on tampons and sanitary towels from a whopping 17.5% to the 5% we pay today. That’s right, Labour’s very own MP, our parliamentary mother nature, the one, the only, Dawn Primarolo. And it doesn’t stop there, Jezza is catching up fast, with his mini-army of Labour members bolstered by a Conservative rebellion, it’s looking like you don’t stand a chance. Come on Dave, the Reds are seriously taking over your game (And our game as women, Ba dum ch. Look, I wouldn’t have to resort to making period jokes if you would have just sorted this tax out in the first place, okay?)

All that I’m trying to say is that periods are no luxury. You can ‘opt-in’ to extravagance. You cannot choose to menstruate. Despite this, a whole heap of disadvantages have been created for those who do. Not using sanitary products can lead to health risks, jeopardise maintaining a normal, professional or personal life, and result in public ridicule. Equally, by using sanitary products, our Government capitalises on misogynist discourse and period shame that has caused us to fear our own menstrual cycles. It’s a double-edged sword that sadly, cuts women on both sides.

But it’s never too late for change.

Look how far we have come. From 17.5% VAT in 1973, to near enough abolishing the 5% we pay today. We just need that final push. Oh, and whilst you’re pushing away, do you have Viktor Orban’s number? You know – the president of Hungary? With the tax on Hungarian sanitary products at an eye-watering 27%, I guess you could say I’ve got a bone to pick with him. A rather large one.

If you help to end the ludicrous tampon tax, not only will you gain more support as our PM, but you will also help to revolutionise the way in which the consequence of this injustice that has affected women and transgender women alike all over Britain. As a society we are constantly bombarded with facts and figures on representation that we’re just not meeting, so think about the wonderful things abolishing the tampon tax would do for Parliament. If our nation’s women see this threshold crossed, it could encourage them to participate more as they have finally been able to witness progress on a topic that directly affects them, as after all, what’s power without the people?

While we can live without flying our own private helicopters, we cannot live without the public participation of those who menstruate, which is dependent upon the accessibility of sanitary products. So, menstruaters everywhere, get those placards and PVA glue out… because David, we’re coming for you.

Alicia Hannah
Alicia Hannah

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