MPs from Worthing, Littlehampton, Arundel and Chichester voted against an amendment that would have required the government to set out a report and strategy on scrapping value added tax from tampons and other sanitary products in the House of Commons on Monday (26 October) – after securing a commitment from the Treasury Minister that the issue would be brought up with the European Commission.
Tampons are currently classified as ‘luxury items’ and are as such liable to VAT, but an amendment to the government’s Finance Bill, tabled by Labour MP Paula Sherriff, would have required that the Chancellor set out a strategy to the Commons on negotiating a tax exemption for ‘women’s sanitary protection products’ with the European Union.
The proposals, which were defeated by a margin of 305-287, were put forward by a Labour MP but Conservatives Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham), Nick Gibb (Littlehampton and Bognor Regis), Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) and Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) all voted to reject the amendment.
Before the amendment was defeated, Treasury Minister David Gauke did agree to raise the issue with the European Commission – an undertaking that made the vote in the eyes of some who oppose the tax, including Arundel MP Nick Herbert, unnecessary.
Given Mr Gauke’s commitment, Mr Herbert resisted the characterisation that he and his party voted against scrapping the tampon tax.
Introducing the amendment, Ms Sherriff said: “A tax system that lets someone dine on crocodile steak on their private jet without paying a penny, when we cannot survive a period without the Treasury taxing us for it, cannot be a fair one.”
According to campaigners, the average woman will spend £18,450 on sanitary products throughout her lifetime – £922 of which is tax.
Critic Stella Creasy MP pointed out the apparent absurdity in tampons being classified as luxury goods when other items, including men’s razors, Jaffa Cakes and pitta bread all escape the tax.
However, legal obstacles prevent the UK from unilaterally removing the tax: at five per cent – far below the EU average of seventeen per cent – the VAT charged on sanitary products is the lowest it can possibly be without the assent of the twenty-seven other member states of the European Union.
Mr Gauke alerted to such difficulties during while addressing the Commons and pointed out that the UK does ‘not have flexibility in these circumstances’.
A similar campaign to abolish the tampon tax was successful in Canada earlier this year but members of the French Assembly voted against reducing the tax in October.
Despite Mr Gauke’s promise, a vote on the amendment was still held and Labour’s Shadow Treasury Minister Rob Marris said: “I salute the Minister for coming a very long way, but he has not come far enough.”
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