Back when George Osborne announced he was going to offset the tampon tax by giving the money to women’s charities, I wasn’t hugely optimistic. Much as I admire the work of charities that provide advice about and shelter against domestic violence and rape, it seemed pretty obvious that trying to solve this problem by taxing women for their normal bodily functions and then using their money to fund services to protect them against crimes mainly perpetrated by men wasn’t ideal. And let’s remember that the money was needed primarily because of austerity cuts: 32 refuges closed between 2010 and 2014, and in a single day in 2014, 112 women and their 84 children were turned away from the remaining refuges due to lack of space.
While Gideon did at least, however, propose that the full £15m from the tampon tax go towards helping charities that work with vulnerable women, our current Chancellor Philip Hammond downgraded that to £12m in his latest Budget. And now it turns out that one of the biggest winners from the Tampon Tax Fund will be an anti-abortion charity called Life, which prioritises foetuses above women’s bodily autonomy and says on its website that its main “vision” is not to “give up until ... abortion is a thing of the past”. Its first value, it states, is “justice for the unborn”.
Life is about to receive £250,000 from the Tampon Tax Fund, which is substantially more than many other charities that believe women have the right to choose what they do with their bodies and don’t try to steer them away from terminations by telling them that abortions are linked to breast cancer. Black Country Women’s Aid, for instance, will receive £240,401, while the Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre in Cornwall will receive £179,157. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust will meanwhile receive £200,000 to help women who are being stalked and Children North East has been given £88,939 to set up a peer mentoring service for vulnerable young girls affected by abuse.
Life, which explicitly states that it is “pro-life” in ideology, spends a substantial amount of its money on funding talks in schools and universities. “Life’s opposition to abortion is not determined primarily by its potential adverse effects,” one of its early leaflets states. “Our objection to the practice of abortion is ethical, rather than pragmatic, i.e. even if abortion were completely safe, we would still oppose it.” In other words, this isn’t about women: it’s about foetuses. Elsewhere on its website, it refers to abortion as making a child “suffer the death penalty when he/she is innocent”.
Life was controversially appointed to the Government’s Sexual Health Forum in 2011. Since its relationship with the Government became closer and it came to benefit from being offered more policy influence and public funding, it started removing something of the more “overt misinformation” and “language that may prove incendiary to critics” from its website, according to a report by the sex education charity Brook. Records of the leaflets it used to give out are still available, however – so you can still access Freezepage links which show how the charity said that a cervical cancer jab for young girls was a bad idea because it “gives young people another green light to be promiscuous”.
If you continue delving into this black hole of dangerous fiction, you’ll also find evidence of the charity stating that “the condom does not give much protect against any [sexually transmitted diseases], even Aids. Instead, by encouraging sexual activity, it may be making matters worse.” Make no mistake: this is a fundamentalist organisation.
And it’s a fundamentalist organisation that already benefited substantially from taxpayers’ money, even before it was given such a big slice of the Tampon Tax Fund pie. In 2012, it received a huge £292,000 from the Big Lottery Fund, and in its most recent accounts, Life showed that it had also benefited from £328,349 from Gift Aid in 2016 alone. Its trustees’ report last year stated that its objectives for 2017 and beyond were “to promote the pro-life cause at every level of public life” as well as to increase the amount of contributions it takes from the 20 charity shops in runs on high streets across the UK and to continue to expand its “education” talks in schools.
In 2013, I spent time with campaigners for a similar anti-abortion organisation called 40 Days For Life who had set up a protest camp outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service in central London and were intimidating women who were attending. They were surprisingly unperturbed about having a journalist in their midst, happy to casually label abortion “genocide” while at the same time referring to the daily harassment of women outside clinics as a nice opportunity for a “social gathering with friends”. A lot of them were recent immigrants who claimed they had been helped with accommodation and integration in a new society in exchange for their presence at the protests.
It’s hard to know what these charities are actually doing, but what we do know about Life should have been enough to discount their representative Stuart Cowie from sitting on the aforementioned Sexual Health Forum, which comprised 15 special members who provide advice to the Department of Health on all sexual health matters until it was disbanded in 2015. It should also have been enough to discount them from receiving such a huge proportion of female taxpayers’ money this year. Then again, it didn’t stop Life’s founder and (until earlier this year) national chairman Jack Scarisbrick from receiving an MBE in 2015 for “services to vulnerable people” (Cowie said at the time that the honour was “long overdue”, adding: “From the outset he said it was not enough to simply oppose abortion – one had to provide real, practical alternatives to it to make a difference.”)
Is this an ideology being funded by the Tories to placate some of its more regressive members, or is it a dangerous oversight by a Government that has no idea – or doesn’t much care – what it’s doing with its public funds? It’s impossible to say, although it’s clear to me that Life has a very cosy relationship with the Government. By flying under the radar, Life has managed to quietly influence a surprising amount over the last few years. But perhaps the £250,000 chunk of the Tampon Tax Fund has taken it too far this time, and (hopefully) attracted the attention which could end in its destruction.Reuse content