Period products should be FREE – scrapping the tampon tax isn't enough

Period products should be FREE – scrapping the tampon tax isn't enough

Period poverty activist Laura Coryton is relieved that the tampon tax has finally been scrapped – but it's not enough.

During an exclusive chat with Four Nine, the activist, who founded the Stop Taxing Periods campaign, explained that England and Wales remain "one step behind" Scotland – the first country in the world to provide free and universal access to menstrual items.

tampn tax Laura Coryton has been campaigning to end the tampon tax for six years (Credit: Supplied)

Scotland makes period products free for all

Laura tells me:"The main difference is that Scotland has the power of politicians who are really dedicated about getting the legislation through parliament. If we had an equivalent in the British parliament, we'd be lightyears ahead of where we are now."

The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act passed after a four-year campaign. It places legal duty on local authorities to make period products available to all individuals who require them.

"Scotland has done so much," 27-year-old Coryton continues. "They were one of the first to trial ways to combat period poverty amongst homeless women and in schools."

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Although the rest of Britain is trailing behind Scotland, Coryton is confident that with persistent campaigning, a change will come. She started the Stop Taxing Periods initiative when she was just 21. Despite her hopes, part of her believed it would never happen. Now that it has, she's confident that eventually, period products will eventually be free.

"Now that there's one less sexist policy that we need to buy into every single month," Coryton continues. "It sends a message that period products are essential, and that anyone who menstruates is essential."

tampon tax The tampon tax was introduced in 1973 (Credit: PA)

The hijacking of the tampon tax

But the path to securing the scrapping of the sexist tax, which rendered menstrual products as "nonessential, luxury items", was far from a clean fight. Reflecting on all the groundwork that was required to secure its abolition, Coryton tells me that it's "frustrating" that the Conservative party hails the abolition as their win.

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She claims that the Tories cited the tax as a reason to support their party and pro-Brexit agenda. Several politicians such as Rishi Sunak and Sir Bernard Jenkin have said that abolition of the tax was thanks to Brexit. However, there's been no mention of the thousands of campaigners who fought for the end of the tampon tax. This includes Labour MP Stella Creasy and former Labour political Paula Sherriff.

"It’s frustrating because all the politicians that were really spearheading it in parliament were Labour, Green and Lib-Dem MP’s," Coryton comments. "There were hardly any Conservatives."

Monica Lennon Monica Lennon MSP joins supporters of the Period Products bill at a rally outside Parliament in Edinburgh (Credit: PA)

Let's end period poverty

Looking to the future, the activist stresses that education remains key when it comes to following in Scotland's progressive footsteps.

She tells me: "Boys aren't taught about periods and girls are taught to be secretive and ashamed. If that were to change in schools, it will make a big difference later throughout society."

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Though it may be a significant milestone, the scrapping of the tampon tax isn't the end of the road when it comes to destigmatising periods.

Coryton explains: "We see periods as being a female problem, which has sidelined it. And it's so easy to ignore people when there's a small group of campaigners talking about something that has already become so normalised."

period poverty Coryton (pictured) advocated for abolishing tampon tax before and following the UK's exit from the European Union (Credit: Supplied)

Coryton's frustration is understandable given the fact it's taken a six-year campaign to scrap the five per cent tax.  "It's taken so long because there's a presumption in society that women's issues are not the same as societal issues," she continues.

"There have been some prominent English politicians who have spoken about period poverty and tampon tax, but not many who have spoken specifically about providing free period products.

"It's interesting though because Scotland has paved the way, so we've already got a policy skeleton.

"Realistically, the UK government can replicate that on a larger scale across England and Wales."