The news that a deal has been made with the EU allowing the UK to abolish the tax on sanitary products was a welcome thing to hear last night. After years of campaigning, petitions and lobbying, it seems as though the government may have actually listened to the views of women all over the country and acknowledged that menstruation is not a luxury, so should not be treated so by HMRC.
However, it was seldom mentioned during this furore about what would happen to the deficit of money coming from the abolition of the tax. Remember a mere matter of months ago, when Osborne famously tried to compromise with women’s rights campaigners by promising that taxes gained from the 5 per cent charge on sanitary products would go to women’s shelters and charities around the country?
This promise was met with indignation at the time, with women understandably objecting to funding their own services for rape and domestic violence.
So now that the tax is in the process of being removed, where will the money come from to fund these vital services for women all over the country? Will it be coming from the public pot, or from down the side of the couch like the billions for Crossrail 2? Or will it magically disappear altogether, taken away as quickly as it was promised?
I contacted the Treasury Press Office for comment and was told that they “didn't know” whether the funding would continue or where it would come from.
The fact that they are unsure as to where this money is coming from or whether it will continue is extremely worrying. Considering a lot of people were sat round the Tory financial table this week sorting out a Budget, you’d think they might have sorted out a provisional contingency plan for what to do about the tampon tax if they actually got what they wanted.
Yes, it is amazing that a deal has been struck with the EU, and puts the Remain ministers in a strong spot in terms of economic control. But is this really a victory for women? Will we benefit, if our services don’t? Was this, more than anything, just a cynical ploy to put Brexiteers and the EU Out campaign on the back foot?
The Budget on Wednesday included huge cuts across the country, in addition to a few bonuses, such as the reduction of corporation tax to 17 per cent for small businesses. Talk of women’s services was absent – there was no mention of what might happen if the tampon tax negotiations went Osborne’s way.
And if he suddenly finds the money to dedicate £12 million per annum out of public spending to plugging the gap, I imagine there’ll be a lot of questions about why cuts had to be so brutal if there’s always a few million available spare.
From a publicity perspective, it will come across as though Osborne has really done something for the women of this country, as opposed to serving his own Remain agenda – but I’m not so sure. And I predict that the matter of this funding will be artfully brushed under the carpet, as a large amount of borrowing and cutting was hidden under the positive rhetoric of the Budget.
One hopes that the Treasury decides soon where the money is coming from or indeed if it is forthcoming at all, otherwise women’s lives face very real danger. This sort of funding is a matter of life or death – how worrying that Osborne didn’t work out a strategy ahead of time for a problem so incredibly serious.
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