Indulge in a Tampon, Anyone?

Jun 27, 2018 | all, let's get natural, period, wellness | 4 comments

Ostrich Meat. Tickets to the zoo. Postage stamps. Lottery tickets. Tampons. Helicopters. Only one of these things is considered a ‘luxury item’ in the eyes of the UK government… and it’s not helicopters. Whether you want to buy one, rent one, or fly one, you can do so without paying a penny into the pocket of the tax man. The one thing the tax man will charge you for? Yep, you guessed it. Tampons. Because, while ostrich, crocodile, and kangaroo meat are not subject to VAT, period products are.

A luxury is, by definition, something inessential, elegant, usually involving great expense . Do you think that products which serve the vital purpose of absorbing all the blood that would otherwise be covering your bedsheets, seat on the tube, office chair, and every item of clothing you own (assuming we lived in a society in which free-bleeding on the reg was even an option, that is) should ever be considered a ‘luxury’? Didn’t think so.

What is the tampon tax?

Back in 2001, the tampon tax (oh and, I hate to break it to you, but it’s only called that because we all love a bit of alliteration – unfortunately the tax is also applied to sanitary towels, maternity pads, and panty liners) was brought down from 17.5% to the 5% it stands at now. If you’re pissed off that this hasn’t changed in almost 20 years then same, babe, but this is actually the lowest the UK government can lower it to under EU regulations.

The government was originally supposed to enter into negotiations with the EU to reform the tax imposed onto consumer goods… then Brexit happened. The negotiations have since been pushed back to 2022. While it is still expected that the UK government will scrap the tax post-Brexit, an exact plan is yet to unfold.

Sorry, you’re doing what with our money?

So, in lieu of working towards scrapping the tax, the government has tried to calm the furore by pledging the money collected from the tax to ‘women’s charities.’ In George Osbourne’s 2015 budget, this was £15m, but Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged just £12m this year to charities and NGOs serving women in crisis.

We love charity! We love supporting other women and people in need! So – why are we still salty about this?

Well, giving money to a ‘good cause’ is actually a lot more complicated in practise than on paper. The idea of a worthy cause is also pretty damn subjective: my dad donates to a small football club, which I think is a colossal waste of money. But it’s something he cares about and, crucially, it’s his money to decide what to do with. Did the government really think they could find a solution (other than, you know, what we’re actually asking for) that would make everyone happy? Please, we live in the age of the internet: our only shared culture is outrage culture. And I gotta say, I’m pretty outraged.

The idea itself is controversial, given that women+ are not only being taxed for their biology, they are now expected to fund the very services which exist to help them. Then consider the way it’s being carried out. As of 2018, only two of the ten charities benefitting from the funding are considered to be specifically for women. Others, such as the mental health charity Mind, have been given a portion of the money because they do work with women, but they are not focused specifically on women’s needs. Oh, but it gets worse.

Usually, we’ll never presume to know your political stance. But we figure that the vast majority of our customers and followers are going to be on board with OHNE’s core feminist values, of which a fundamental part is a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. And a you know what’s a giant slap in the face of these values? The idea of our money going towards an anti-abortion charity. Yeah. £250,000 of last year’s tampon tax fund was donated to Life, an organisation that was set up almost half a bloody century ago. In addition to being anti-abortion, they also campaign against teaching sexual education in schools. I don’t know about you, but this isn’t what our idea of progress looks like.

What are we actually paying for our periods?

There’s really no definitive calculation that will tell you exactly how much you’ve spent on period products. The Evening Standard puts it at as much as £492 per year, while the BBC’s calculator reckons I’ve spent the much lower sum of approximately £78 a year since I started my periods. Whichever way you look at it, however, that’s anywhere between roughly £4-£25 a year on tampon tax alone. Which may not sound unaffordable to some of us, but to people living below the poverty line, its an expense they shouldn’t have to be worrying about.

If you’re an OHNE customer however, your calculations will look a bit different. The figures above are based on the assumption that the company you’re buying your chosen period products from is not absorbing the tax for you… which we are.

Cutting tampon tax won’t solve period poverty, we know that. In Ireland, a staggering 50% of young people are not able to afford period products, despite Ireland not imposing VAT on period products (yes, Ireland are in the EU, but since they implemented their 0% tax policy before the EU implemented its 5% policy, they’re exempt… it all makes my head hurt a bit too). Too many girls in the UK are missing school every month because of their periods and 1 in 10 report being unable afford period products. This won’t change overnight. But, by imposing luxury VAT on essential products, the government is displaying a shocking disregard for the realities of living in a low-income household.

Around the world, women and people who have periods are struggling to afford the period products they so desperately need – let me say that again: not products they want, not products they indulge in, but products they need – without the prices of those products being hiked up by VAT.

We’re taking a stand against it – OHNE absorbs the tampon tax for every customer and will continue to until it’s finally scrapped – and we hope you’ll join us. Let’s keep making noise.


Photo credit: OHLALA

Join us

Pop your email in for the latest OHNE-goings (period, sex, women & wellness)

Join us

Pop your email in for the latest OHNE-goings (period, sex, women & wellness)


  1. Angela

    Life is a wonderful charity that helps women have their babies when they would otherwise be unable to do so. I know babies who are alive because Life cared when everyone else was screaming at the woman to get an abortion. I object to the money going to places like Marie-Stopes that send you home with a petri dish and ask you to bring back the dead baby so they can prove they killed it “properly”. Not every woman feels the same way about abortion, don’t assume we do. Thank you.

  2. Bella OHNE

    Hi Angela thanks for your comment. We appreciate that not all women are pro-choice and we support you donating to whichever charity or organisation you care about. What we’re objecting to is the tax of everyone who buys tampons in the UK going to organisations that many of us don’t approve of or support – as we mentioned in the article, the idea of a worthy cause is pretty subjective!

  3. Maria

    Hi Bella,

    I would like to correct you: pro-choice does not equal with pro-abortion, it means to give every woman the choice to make an informed decision to have or not have an abortion without any pressure from external factors including financial pressure. Having worked in a hospital, I can tell you from my experience that 9 out of 10 women who had abortions there did it due to financial reasons and many times with the support of their partners and sometimes their mothers. Unfortunately in my country, it costs a lot of money to go the hospital for labour and much less to have an abortion (about 25% of what it costs to give birth).
    My mum had an abortion before getting pregnant with me because at that time she could not afford to have the baby. She has told me that it took her years to get over the fact -she kept dreaming of what that baby could have been until she got pregnant with me.
    So, no, I don’t think that true empowerment for women is being allowed to have abortion but being allowed to decide on your own whether you want or not to have a baby and to be given support regardless of your choice.

  4. Adrienne

    Not rlly clear exactly what youre saying here… pro choice gives women who cant finacially support a child the freedom to choose not to have one – which is their right. I completely disagree with you, true empowerment IS being allowed to have an abortion whenever you need one or want one. Not rlly sure what youre arguing against tbh


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest