Bath students step-up challenge to remove ‘period tax’

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The University of Bath Students’ Union is campaigning to remove the 5 per cent value-added tax on feminine hygiene products in Fresh, the campus shop.

tampons 2 - Aaron Fulkerson

Are tampons fairly priced?

This move comes after similar campaigns at other universities around the country, including the University of East Anglia, which was the first students’ union to successfully campaign on the issue. Earlier this year the University of Sussex Students’ Union also introduced new prices to these so-called ‘luxury’ products, reducing the price of tampons and sanitary towels by approximately 30 per cent.

Sanitary products in Fresh Express are currently priced from £1.49 to £3.59 per pack, making tampons and sanitary towels contribute to a considerable part of the budgets of menstruating students on campus. The Students’ Union had attempted to lobby the store to subsidise the VAT on these products earlier this year. Unfortunately for the Union this proposal failed as a result of limited finances, as the SU would be unable to cover any of the costs themselves.

Speaking to bathimpact about the SU’s plans for this campaign, Gender Equality Chair Chloe Scutt said, “On the 24th we did a stall for the Diversity and Support Fair, raising awareness of the tax, and hopefully giving away free sanitary products,” adding, “I’ve also asked the university to investigate whether they can sell sanitary products at cost price but I don’t think I’ll hear the results from that for a while.”

Whilst there may be room for subsidy in the Fresh Express, the larger store on campus remains off limits. A spokesman for the University told , “In the larger Fresh, we’re in a franchise with the larger Co-op group. We use their till systems, so it would be pretty difficult to override this, even if we had the political will to do so.”

The main argument from campaigners is that whilst tampons and sanitary towels or ‘women-centric products’ are categorised as luxury products under British trading law – meaning that they must be taxed – these products are a necessity for most women. Whereas products such as nicotine patches and razors are deemed as essential by government, feminine hygiene products are still considered as a luxury. Furthermore, products such as the contraceptive pill and condoms are readily available for free in many cases, yet a related product such as tampons continue to be taxed.

Karina Délcheva, the National Union of Students (NUS) Women’s Delegate for the University of Bath, recently pushed the issue at the NUS Women’s Conference this month. “The problem is the categorisation of the products,” Miss Délcheva told bathimpact, adding, “If we de-categorise them from luxurious to necessity, we wouldn’t have to tax them at all”.

Miss Délcheva, who was nominated for Inspirational Woman’s Officer at the Conference, put forward a motion which urged the NUS to lobby the Government to act on the issue. Now passed, the NUS will actively campaign on the topic for the next three years.

Jordan Kenny, the SU President, said on the achievement, “Bath is once again leading work nationally, that could affect people around the world, with the knowledge that the network of students across the UK in our Students’ Union’s are pulling together like never before to create positive change.”

Though little has been done to get rid of this tax on sanitary products on campus, the possibility of subsidising this cost still remains. When asked whether or not the University itself is pushing for the removal of the so-called ‘period tax’ on campus, the University spokesman said, “We are not planning to,” though he also added, “If the question was asked [on subsidisation of tampons]it is definitely something we would look closer into”. Thus, there remains hope for the SU’s campaign against the taxation of feminine hygiene products.

This issue of the period tax is also being debated at an international level, with Jyoti Sanghera, chief of the UN Human Rights Office on Economic and Social Issues, calling the stigma around menstrual hygiene “a violation of several human rights, most importantly the right to human dignity”. Due to the luxurious categorisation of these products, tampons and sanitary towels are not provided in foreign aid, making this dispute also significant outside of the UK. If the NUS’s campaign succeeds, students may become the driving force behind changing this classification.

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Ramiye Thavabalasingam is a former News & Comment Editor at bathimpact (2014/15). She writes about a number of University of Bath issues, as well as local Bath politics.

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