Thursday, November 26, 2015


George Osborne was definitely tending to the self-satisfied for most of the Autumn Statement yesterday - no mean feat, given the back-pedalling at its heart. But he was rarely smugger than when he announced what he thought was a really clever wheeze.

The VAT rate charged on sanitary products is 5% - the lowest permitted under European law. The UK Government is currently lobbying the EU to allow them to exempt sanitary products altogether (and apparently with some chance of success). At the moment, however, this is a tax that the Government wants to get rid of, but can't.

One of the key points of 'unfairness' that is raised against the tax as it stands is that it applies uniquely to women. When the Treasury dropped the rate from standard to reduced back in 2000, one of the questions asked was whether there were any products that only men would ever buy. Inventive mandarins eventually came up with beard trimmers and circumcision knives - neither of which really amount to the same thing. So, you have a tax raised (effectively uniquely) entirely from women,

Wouldn't it be a nice gesture, thought Osborne, if this money, which is there in the general funds, could be spent specifically on women, just as it is raised specifically by women? An additional £15m for women's charities, so that at least this unwelcome tax is going to a good cause. It seems rather a neat solution.

No. Of course not. Everyone went nuts instead.
Not for the first time, I am baffled by this argument. There's a perfectly good argument that it would be better if no tax was levied on tampons - it's just that it's not something the Government can legally do. But the argument that, given that tax is levied on tampons, it is insulting for the proceeds to be given to women's charities is just really odd.

I think there are three different assumptions going on, and all of them are wrong. The first is the one you see about 'luxuries' and razors and so on.
I recognise that razors are zero-rated, and judging by many Conservative Members the opportunity to shave every day is a human right. They are cleanly shaven, and I am sure they would be concerned to be charged a higher rate of VAT.
 Stella Creasy, Hansard, 26 October 2015
The idea being that idiot know-nothing men apply VAT to essentials like tampons that don't affect them, while ensuring that more male products, like razors, are exempt. Which is fine, except that razors are VAT-able at 20%.

The second argument is that funding for charities should come from general taxation - typified by the two tweets above. And the obvious answer to this is that it does. Obviously there could always be more money spent on things, and obviously there are more good causes that would benefit from funding than there are funds. But the argument that no public money goes to women's charities apart from this latest initiative is just wrong.

The third, and most emotive argument is that this is just making "Bleeding women pay for other bleeding women". But this argument is arse-about-face. The Government isn't levying a special tax on women in order to pay for women's charities. The tax on women is there already, and unremovable. The Government is just making sure that the money raised is spent on women, and not on ministerial cars, or Type 26 frigates, or any other of the myriad recipients of public funding.

That this initiative has created so much hostility is proof either of the proposition that no good deed goes unpunished, or that there really is just no pleasing some people.


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