There’s so much to love in the Autumn Statement today, but I think my favourite moment was when Osborne announced that women are going to pay for their own domestic violence and rape counselling through the tampon tax.
Yes, more than 300,000 people have signed a petition asking for the tax to be abolished entirely. And no, Osborne can’t do anything about it because of EU tax rules. But you know what? All those cuts have been pretty hard on vulnerable women – domestic violence shelters have closed, Britain has fallen to 26th place on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, the pay gap remains stubbornly in place and charities such as Rape Crisis have continually warned that women are bearing the brunt of austerity measures. So, old Gideon’s logic goes, let’s throw the poor dears a bone. They’ve taken the time to petition, after all.
Since the Tory government has failed women in so many ways, it makes undeniable sense for it to help us to help ourselves. Give a woman a tampon and she’ll use it for free; teach a woman to pay tampon tax and she won’t even cost anything extra to the state when she gets raped, attacked or laid off at work.
So if you’re a woman escaping from an abusive relationship in the Chancellor’s Britain, you can now pay for your own counselling through the redistribution of an unfair tax on your sanitary products. Isn’t that just perfect? It has a beautiful circularity, kind of like the menstrual cycle itself.
Imagine you’re working in a public sector job, where four in 10 women work. Imagine you’re also a single mother. Imagine you used to rely on the local Sure Start centre, which unfortunately has now been shut down. And now imagine the products you bought to deal with your periods are going towards a new charity popping up with a women’s support clinic. What goes around, comes around – in this case, blood, sweat and tears. High fives all round at Tory HQ.
Osborne presumably thinks that women will respond gratefully to his announcement, allowing us to finally enjoy the spoils of our luxury tampon tax. ‘What a noble move!’ we are supposed to cry, while shredding our sanitary towels into confetti and sprinkling them in the streets (don’t worry about the waste – it’s all going to charity, girls.) ‘Women can now collectively take responsibility for the provision of support services to women. Finally, we’re being given the means to sort out the problems we created. This truly is the Big Society.
Well, sorry if I don’t feel like joining the celebrations. Because just like everything else Osborne announced today, all I see here is a political soundbite pulled from under an avalanche of grossly misguided policies. The real irony is that the Tory government’s cuts – many of which, in the benefits system at least, have been linked to suicides – have often had literally bloody effects. And now we’re supposed to use our own blood to clean up the mess left behind.
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