The amount of sales tax charged by the British government on tampons and other sanitary products has been at the centre of fierce political debate linked to whether the UK stays in the European Union.
Some of those who want Britain to leave the EU had seized on the issue as an example of how Brussels exerts control over sovereign governments – and it also sexist.
An online petition calling for the tax to be scrapped has been signed by over 300,000 in Britain
Tampons and other female hygiene products carry a sales tax of five percent in Britain while other goods such as razors, mainly used by men, are exempt from sales tax – known as VAT in the UK.
That is because such products were not classed as essentials when Britain joined Europe in the 1970s and no member state is allowed to add new items to an EU approved list of VAT-exempt articles.
British Prime Minister David Cameron used the row as a means of showing London can effect changes in EU policy.
At a European Union summit he got the European Commission to agree to a proposal that will give EU members more flexibility to reduce tax rates. Full details are due to be released on Wednesday March 23. All 28 member states will have to agree before Britain could go ahead and cut the sales tax on sanitary products to zero.
That doesn’t mean the executive has suddenly become more feminist, rather that they were keen to remove an issue that Cameron’s opponents could have used against him in the June 23 referendum on whether Britain remains in the EU.
“We’re a step closer to ending the tampon tax,” a British government spokeswoman said. A vote on the latest government Finance Bill in the UK parliament on Tuesday March 22 will pave the way for it to end in Britain.
The move could lead to changes in other European countries. Rates of VAT on tampons vary greatly – from zero in Ireland to 27 percent in Hungary.