Since 2014, there has been increased support for a campaign to change the status of period products from ‘miscellaneous’ to ‘necessary’ – and rightly so. For the vast majority of those who menstruate, periods are not something dealt with out of choice. It seems wrong that we have to pay quite considerable amounts of money for supplies like pads, tampons, and often pain relief. Finally, on January 1, 2021, Britain abolished the ‘tampon tax’. But despite being told that this move would reduce the cost of period products and menstruation, things aren’t looking rosy.
We’re always being reminded to make choices that protect our planet rather than destroy it, and periods are no different. The government is trying to encourage people to use more sustainable alternatives as opposed to single-use plastic-wrapped pads and tampons. However, a series of errors that came with the scrapping of the ‘tampon tax’ has made it more challenging and less accessible for people to buy greener alternatives.
Period pants are more environmentally friendly than standard pads and tampons. This means that people who struggle to use menstrual cups or can’t cope with the sight of blood don’t have to be excluded from sustainable solutions. Yet, an ‘administrative error’ caused HMRC to categorise period pants as clothing instead of period products. This error resulted in a 20% clothing tax rate being added. Regardless of whether this is a genuine error or rather a lack of education about what period pants are, this added tax puts an already expensive product further out of reach for even more individuals, setting us several steps back from the goal of ensuring that everyone can safely and comfortably manage their period in an environmentally friendly way. The stigma around periods is costly, both for the consumer as well as for society, so we must work to remove the fear and shame around these conversations in order to prevent such errors from happening again.
Marks & Spencer has started a campaign along with WUKA, a period pant company, to lobby the British government into changing the tax categorisation of period pants from a clothing item into a necessary menstrual product. The M&S campaign is important because it reminds people of the value of choices – especially of sustainable choices. As much as I would love to believe that M&S is in our corner, fighting back against yet another tax on menstruation, I can’t help but to feel like this is just a spectacular example of virtue-signalling.
Image: Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Two and a half years ago, Rishi Sunak announced that the British government would finally end the tampon tax. So, products should be cheaper – right?
Tax Policy Associates, a non-profit advisory firm, found that even after adjusting for inflation, period products are hardly any cheaper than they were pre-tax abolition. There’s a simple and hardly unsurprising reason for this; instead of removing the tax cost, retailers have kept prices the same and are making a pretty penny from the profits. This means that in the UK we’ve lost out on nearly £40 million since the end of the tampon tax. In other words, Brits continue to be punished for having periods at the cost of millions of pounds each year.
Despite campaigning for the removal of the period pant tax, M&S is one of the many retailers who have kept their period products at pre-tax abolition prices. What looks like a great battle for reproductive rights and equality is actually a campaign for more money in their pockets. The red-washing and virtue-signalling is really cramping their style.
Periods are not something we should hold against people; we shouldn’t force people to put both their mental and physical health at risk because they have to use makeshift products or wear them for longer than recommended. When Rishi Sunak announced the scrapping of the tax, he claimed that the government had upheld their promise “to make sanitary products more affordable”. It’s time retailers stop being greedy, start reducing prices, and begin making period products accessible and sustainable for all – no strings attached.