THE tampon tax charged on sanitary products has been one of the most controversial of all levies.
In his first Budget as Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed that he will be scrapping the tax now the UK has finally left the EU. Here is everything you need to know.
What is the tampon tax and what is the VAT rate?
The tampon tax is the name given to VAT charged on women's sanitary products including tampons, pads and towels.
The rate is currently five per cent, compared with 20 per cent VAT on most products and services, while some essential items such as food are exempt or zero-rated.
Campaigners have warned the charge makes it harder for women to afford sanitary protection, leading to "period poverty".
More than 320,000 signed a petition calling on the government to scrap the tax in 2015.
Then-Chancellor George Osborne said he was not allowed to lower the VAT rate because of EU rules that class sanitary products as "luxury" or "non-essential".
The government lobbied Brussels to change the rules, and in the meantime promised to use the £15million annual tax revenue to fund women's charities such as domestic abuse refuges.
In August 2017 Tesco became the first British supermarket to effectively scrap the Tampon Tax by covering the 5 per cent VAT itself.
Waitrose and Morrisons also cut their prices on hundreds of items to cancel out the effect of VAT.
When will the tampon tax be scrapped?
On March 11, 2020 Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised to abolish tampon tax from January 2021.
He said: "I can confirm, now we’ve left the EU, that I will abolish the tampon tax.
"From January next year, there will be no VAT whatsoever on women’s sanitary products."
This will save the average woman almost £40 over their lifetime – with a tax cut of 7p on a pack of 20 tampons and 5p on a pack of 12 pads.
What is period poverty?
Campaigners say many women and girls cannot afford sanitary products, putting their health at risk. The average woman spends more than £150 a year.
In June 2018, MP Danielle Rowley shocked the House of Commons by announcing she was on her period while calling on ministers to help women who are trapped in "period poverty".
She said: "I would like to raise with you today and to the House, and perhaps you'll excuse me for my lateness, that today I'm on my period – and it's cost me this week already £25.
"We know the average cost of a period in the UK over a year is £500 – many women can't afford this. What is the minister doing to address period poverty?"
Equalities minister Victoria Atkins said the Government was ploughing £1.5million into projects educating young people.
She also said VAT would be scrapped as soon as Britain leaves the EU.
Research by the maker of Always products showed a fifth of UK parents struggled to afford sanitary protection for their daughters.
And more than 135,000 girls missed out on school each year because of period poverty.
Where can you get free sanitary products?
Some manufacturers offer free samples to anyone who asks.
Always, which is running a campaign called #EndPeriodPoverty, says it donates products to help keep girls in school.
In May 2018 the Scottish Parliament introduced free tampons and pads in the female toilets for use by all staff and visitors.
It follows a Scottish government pilot scheme to hand out free sanitary products to 1,000 women and girls from low-income homes. The £500,000 scheme is being extended across Scotland.
In June 2018 the British Medical Association said free tampons should be provided by the state across the UK.
It also wants them to be available for in-patients in hospital.
Medical student Eleanor Wilson, whose motion was backed by the doctors' union, said: “We do not ask patients to bring in toilet paper or food so why are we asking them to bring in their own sanitary products?"
She added: “By providing sanitary products for free, universally, not only do we side step the cost of means testing but also make the statement that access to sanitary products is a basic human right for all, uniting our population in a shift towards equality.”
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