Britain will lobby the European Union and its member states to stop taxing tampons and other women’s sanitary products as luxury items, rather than necessities, a junior finance minister promised on Monday.
The vow came after a petition called “Stop taxing periods. Period.” reached 252,000 signatures and a parliamentary debate revealed wide political support for making sanitary products exempt from value added tax (VAT), called a sales tax in some countries.
“Frankly, VAT on tampons is the vagina added tax,” quipped opposition Labour MP Paula Sherriff in the debate. “Tax on women, pure and simple.”
Sherriff had tabled an amendment to a government Finance Bill that demanded a strategy for EU talks on the issue.
Although the amendment was defeated, junior finance minister David Gauke promised parliament he would lobby the EU on the matter.
“As this debate illustrates, there is very considerable cross-party support for the UK to abolish VAT on sanitary products,” Gauke told parliament.
“I undertake to the House I will raise this issue with the European Commission and other member states setting out the views reflected in this debate — that it should apply a zero rate to sanitary products.”
Currently, tampons and sanitary products are taxed at 5 percent in Britain, and this cannot be lowered without agreement between the bloc’s 28 member states.
A Labour government cut the rate of tax on tampons from 17.5 percent in 2000 to the lower rate, but was prevented from removing the tax altogether by EU rules.
Eurosceptic lawmakers seized on the issue as an example of where Britain needed to take back power from Brussels. One Labour legislator urging the government to lower the tax without EU permission.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is currently pressing for changes to Britain’s membership, including an opt-out of a commitment to closer union and the ability to exclude EU migrants from welfare, ahead of an in-out referendum due by 2017.
Labour MP Stella Creasy said the debate was an opportunity to “show solidarity across the continent”.
“The time has come to end these inequalities,” Creasy said. “Tampons and sanitary towels should be treated as a necessity in 2015.”
It is unclear how wide support for the change is among other EU member states, however.
Earlier this month, French lawmakers voted against an amendment to cut VAT on sanitary products to 5.5 percent from 20 percent.