British retailers cut cost of period underwear and call on government to scrap tax
- Major British high street brands are cutting the cost of period underwear by 20%
- They have joined the Say Pants to the Tax campaign calling on the government to drop VAT
- In 2021 the government scrapped VAT from disposable period products, but not underwear
British high street brands John Lewis and Waitrose are the latest retailers to substantially reduce the price of period underwear, joining supermarkets Tesco and Marks & Spencer.
Parent company The John Lewis Partnership announced that it will cut the cost of 30 types of period underwear by 20%. The decision comes in the wake of growing concerns over the financial burden faced by many women due to the high cost of period products.
Period pants, also known as menstrual underwear, have gained popularity as a reusable and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional disposable sanitary products. They are designed to be comfortable, leak-proof, and are made from sustainable materials. However, their higher upfront cost (averaging £23 or $29 for a pair) has been a barrier for many women.
How does period underwear work?
Period underwear is reusable thanks to multiple layers of fabric that are specially designed to absorb and retain menstrual flow. The exact composition of these layers can vary between brands, but they often include a combination of natural and synthetic materials. The innermost layer is designed to keep moisture away from the body.
Absorption capacity varies between brands, with some capable of holding as much fluid as three or four tampons, making them suitable for heavy flow days.
After use, it is recommended that underwear is rinsed in cold water to remove excess blood, and washed in the washing machine with regular laundry.
The main benefit of menstrual underwear is that it is kinder to the environment than disposable tampons and pads. According to manufacturer WUKA, one pair of its period underwear can save 100 tampons from going into landfills.
Say Pants to the Tax
In 2021, the British government announced it would abolish the ‘Tampon Tax’, scrapping VAT from period products like pads and tampons. However under current VAT rules period underwear is classified as a garment rather than a period product and is taxed at 20%.
The ‘Say Pants to the Tax’ campaign was launched in August by retailer Marks & Spencer and Wuka, calling for the government to reclassify period underwear in line with other period products.
John Lewis and Waitrose are the latest brands to join the campaign, together with Primark, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
In a public letter to the government, signatories including 35 MPs, peers and the Bloody Good Period charity wrote: “We were delighted when the government made the decision to abolish the ‘Tampon Tax’ in 2021. This meant that disposable period products stopped incurring VAT. This was a big step in the right direction but – on behalf of our customers and women across the UK – there is more to do.
“Period pants have the power to reduce plastic pollution and waste and they also have the potential to save people money in the long term as they can be worn, washed, and worn again, month after month. But, to make this a reality, we must start by making this brilliant alternative to disposable period products more accessible to more people. We believe this starts by removing the tax and reclassifying period pants as a period product.”
An online petition has more than 31,000 signatures so far, with the government’s response reiterating that it had cut VAT from period products. “The government introduced a VAT zero rate on 1 January 2021, on sanitary products previously subject to a rate of 5 per cent. Period pants are not in this group, but we keep all taxes under review,” it said.
Making period underwear affordable
In a statement on its website, Marks & Spencer said that removing the VAT would help make period underwear more affordable to their customers. “If the government removes the VAT and reclassifies period pants as period products, we can make them more affordable. We have pledged to pass the entirety of the saving – and more – onto our customers. For example, a three pack of period pants at £20 will become £16. That’s a saving of £4.”
Nicki Baggott, Sanitary Products Buyer for Waitrose, said: “It’s a no-brainer that period underwear should be classed as a period product. It’s the right thing to do, and will help our customers save money on everyday essentials.”
Campaigners hope this collaborative effort between major retails can pave the way for further initiatives aimed at making essential products more affordable and sustainable while improving the wellbeing of women.