The Vag Tax

Oh it’s hilarious following the American Republican candidacy campaigns, isn’t it? You see Republicans like Rush Limbaugh call a Georgetown University law student a slut because she argued that contraception should be covered by universal health insurance, and cry ‘Praise be!’ to our lovely reserved British gods, that at least our politicians aren’t quite such fantastic oafs as that. But then, listening to Limbaugh ridicule the idea that “thousands of dollars in taxpayer dollars [might be spent] to satisfy the sexual habits of female law students,” and his oh so jocular request that there might be videos of all this sex posted online so we can see what we are getting for our money did make me think a bit about the kinds of extra expense women are put to, even in this green and pleasant land, on account of our pesky female sex organs.

Now, contraception is not such a Vag Tax issue – Limbaugh has helpfully forgotten that it takes two to tango. There’s probably an even split in the sale of condoms to men and women; the pill and all the more invasive contraptions are free on the NHS; and even condoms are free if you don’t mind the weekly trip to the family planning clinic to pick up a meager paper bag of extra-safes. The problem here is more that there’s a pleasure-tax on poor people as only the better off can afford a steady supply of feather-lite non-surgical-glove-like sex.

Actually the main Vag Tax that Limbaugh’s remarks have so graciously called to my mind, not counting all the waxing and Weight-Watchers accounts it takes for us to walk out of the house looking the way women’s magazines suggest all Vag owners should, is the inexplicable tax on tampons. The VAT rate on sanitary products was finally reduced from a luxury (! 17.5%) to 5% under the chancellor-ship of Gordon Brown in 2000 (and he was ribbed roundly at the time for being unable to say the words ‘sanitary protection’ in the Commons chamber – imagine him trying to say the word slut!). According to the Guardian at the time, this is the ‘lowest possible under European rules limiting the goods that can be zero-rated’ but it sounds like a miserable compromise to me. This is an issue of staples! It’s not like we or our European sisters can decide not to bother with tampons one month because we’d rather buy nicotine patches and gum – incidentally also on the 5% rate. Oh thank you so much Mr. Taxman, for helping me give up my menstrual vices one tampon at a time.

It’s got to be 0% surely? And we’re not even asking to have tampons for free, which actually, come to think of it, maybe we should be. I wonder how many blood-soaked tube seats it would take for the government to decide that actually an unplugged menstrual flow is as difficult for society as excessive birth rates. A monthly-sit-in on the district and circle line anyone?

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