Period pants remain taxed despite government’s claim to remove VAT from menstrual products

Period pants are an environmentally friendly, essential menstrual product, yet they’re still taxed as a luxury item

Whilst the government claimed to remove the 20 per cent tax from ‘all’ menstrual products at the beginning of this year, it excluded sustainable and reusable period pants.

With the rapid increase in period poverty and the £88 million used every year to clear disposable menstrual products from sewers, the decision to tax an environmentally friendly alternative makes no sense.

Period pants are excluded from the VAT exemption because they are classified as ‘underwear’ by the treasury, despite being for menstrual use and more environmentally friendly than disposables. They are consequently taxed at 20 per cent – the same as champagne and private jets.

When the tax on other menstrual products was removed, Rishi Sunak claimed: “Sanitary products are essential so it’s right that we do not charge VAT”. However, the government has taken steps specifically to exclude period underwear from the legislation.

The number of girls in the UK who can’t afford to buy period products reached three in 10 in the lockdown, and 54 per cent of them said they had to use toilet paper instead. Moreover, most disposable menstrual products, especially pads, are made from up to 90 per cent plastic – the equivalent of four plastic bags. The government has promised to make a focussed effort in tackling period poverty in the UK and plastic pollution, yet they consider a sustainable menstrual product as a ‘luxury item’ and tax it as such.

Compared to tampons, period pants are a longer-lasting, more accessible option, therefore they are a vital alternative for people with disabilities, sensory issues, endometriosis, school pupils or key workers doing long hours.

Ahead of the March budget, there is a campaign running over the miscommunication of the tampon tax removal called #thistaxispants. The Women’s Environmental Network, Bloody Good Period and Modibodi are petitioning the government to have these pants included in the exemption.

Credit: Instagram

Kristy Chong, the CEO & Founder Modibodi (a manufacturer of period pants) told The Tab: “Period underwear has the capacity to drive fundamental change for the environment, significantly improve the quality of life and period dignity for millions of people around the world who may be struggling to access bathrooms or suffer a disability, whilst reducing waste and contributing positively to body confidence.

“Data shows that there is a strong growth in the demand for period underwear, and yet the government is failing to recognise how vital such products are in helping to overcome major issues like climate change, not to mention disabilities and sport-related needs, it’s important that the UK population have a choice to use reusable period products without being penalised with a tax”.

The Women’s Environmental Network added: “It is baffling that period pants are not considered a menstrual product and are 20 per cent more expensive. The VAT on this essential product denies women and people who menstruate equitable access to healthy, eco-friendly period care, limiting a choice that is critical for people’s health and the environment.

“Many people who menstruate use period pants out of necessity because they are far more compatible with the unique needs of their body and flow, or they are trying to make a sustainable choice for the planet. We at Wen will continue to work with our Environmenstrual Coalition to champion equitable access to sustainable and inclusive period care until no person with a period is left behind.”

The campaign website offers more information about the three organisations leading the campaign at the moment, however, this is a growing base with more unions and organisations signing up and getting involved. They have also been in touch with several MPs who are on side.

Most importantly, they need more people to sign their petition, write to their MPs and engage with this politically for it to gain government discussion. You can find draft letters and tweets to use here.

Featured image credit: @Modibodi

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