The Treasury is analysing whether the removal of the “tampon tax” – trumpeted last week by Rishi Sunak as one of the benefits of Brexit – has helped lower prices at all, amid concerns the saving is not being passed on by retailers to women.
Responding to a written question from the Labour MP Ruth Cadbury, the government said a tax reduction was able to “contribute to the conditions for price reductions” and it was “looking into whether this important zero-rating is being passed on by retailers to women as intended”.
Sunak scrapped the 5% VAT rate on tampons when he was chancellor, with the change kicking in on 1 January 2021. Last year, the Guardian reported stores were thought to have banked £10m a year from the tax change.
A new snapshot for the last 12 months shows prices have risen again, in many cases by much more than the 10% rate of inflation.
A pack of 20 supermarket own-label tampons is now £1.16, up from 91p a year ago. This works out as a 27% increase, based on the average price across Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons, according to the data firm Assosia. Meanwhile, at £2.38 for a pack of 18, a box of Tampax Compak Super Plus tampons costs 35p, 17% more than in May 2022.
When it comes to pads, a pack of eight to 10 Bodyform Ultra Goodnight pads costs 21p – or 16% – more at £1.51, while a 14-pack of Always Sensitive is up by 3p at 98p. Some products are cheaper. The price of a 14-pack of supermarket own-label ultra regular pads is down by 3p to 63p.
Laura Coryton, who started the Stop Taxing Periods campaign that helped bring about the policy change, said the 300,000 people who signed her petition to end tampon tax “wanted to make period products more accessible”.
“They didn’t want to make supermarkets richer.”
Coryton has started a new petition calling on retailers to pass on any savings from the tampon tax to women.
On his way to the G7 summit, Sunak cited cheaper period products and beer – a new alcohol duty regime will come into being this summer – as among the “very tangible benefits of Brexit”.
However, in the past year the cost of nearly everything, including beer and tampons, has gone up. Cadbury suggested his comments showed “how out of touch he is about the cost of living crisis”, adding the rising cost of period products is “having a huge impact”.
Researchers at the not-for-profit advisory firm Tax Policy Associates, which produced research last year showing how retailers benefited, compared tampon price changes with those of 13 similar products, including tissues and nappies, for several years before the tax was removed and up until March 2022, when inflation started to accelerate.
Its founder, Dan Neidle, said its analysis showed that, at most, tampon prices were cut by about 1%, with the majority of the benefit, worth about £10m a year, retained by retailers.
Neidle suggested that if you wanted to make a vital product more affordable to people on lower incomes it was “much better to distribute it free to those in need than cut VAT”. “Otherwise we’re just using taxpayer funds to boost retailers’ profits.”
A government spokesperson said: “Having left the EU, we have kept our promise to scrap the tampon tax to make sanitary products more affordable. We urge retailers to pass the savings on to shoppers.”