A motion to sell tax-free sanitary products in the Union shop has been put on hold due to a lack of finances to support the plan.
Many UK students’ unions now sell tampons and pads at cost price and absorb the VAT themselves, providing these essential items at a cheaper price for students. Some have even started offering free tampons and pads for students.
Such a scheme does not currently exist in St Andrews but in September, Ali West, a member of the external campaigns subcommittee, drafted a motion which outlined a plan to pro- vide sanitary products in the “Your Union” shop free of tax.
However, the motion has now been withdrawn due to lack of finances.
In the United Kingdom, tampons and menstrual pads are currently taxed at a rate of 5 per cent, and are classed as “non-essential, luxury items” by HM Revenue and Customs.
Toby Emerson, Student Representative Council (SRC) member for external campaigns, told The Saint: “We are very behind on this. A lot of universities in England provide [tax-free sanitary products], Glasgow subsidises the VAT and Edinburgh provide them for free. We’re behind basically and as the Union of such an influential university, we should be on top of this.” The motion was to be proposed to the Student Services Council (SSC) by the External Campaigns Committee.
Mr Emerson told The Saint that: “In principle the motion has three points. The first one is to try and get sanitary products sold in the Union at cost price. The second was to then look at subsidising the 5 per cent luxury item VAT with the ultimate aim of mimicking a successful project at Edinburgh University, whereby sanitary products are given to students for free in a similar way as to what we currently do with condoms.”
The motion was seconded by seven council members including Alice Lecointe, SRC member for gender equality.
Ms Lecointe has supported the motion from the outset and told The Saint: “I think it is something students have been asking for a while, and it would be great to have.”
In the initial phase of producing the motion, Mr Emerson spoke with the Students’ Association Sabbatical officers and the Union general manager in an attempt to gage the amount of financial input required. The motion was due to be proposed at the meeting of the SCC on Tuesday 13 October.
However, the plans were dashed at the last minute: According to Mr Emerson: “Five minutes before the meeting for the SSC in which I was due to propose the motion, we got a set of figures that suggested it would be potentially financially unviable.”
The figures had been put together by the Union general manager and as Mr Emerson had not had the opportunity to discuss these fully with him, he decided to “withdraw the motion temporally.”
Mr Emerson said he did not want to propose the motion only for “some- one to have to stand up and say, in the interest of everyone knowing what’s going on, we have some figures that suggest it might not work. I felt that this would give a negative connotation to the motion.”
He told The Saint that the committee plan to: “withdraw [the motion], look at it in more detail, see how we can adapt things and push it forward again.”
While the plan has been put on hold for the time being, Mr Emerson stressed that it had not failed and he would endeavour to have the motion adjusted and eventually put into practise.
Ms West attributed the problems with the motion to “a lack of effective communication.”
She told The Saint that the figures they were provided with “did not make a lot of sense.”
The information included a list of sanitary products and the price at which they could be sold by the Your Union shop – as well as a comparison with the price of the products at other outlets in St Andrews.
However, the figures were unclear as these comparisons were often drawn between two entirely different products or with products that were on over.
The motion is now being reassessed and amended as part an on-going process.
Part of the motion will also work in partnership with the St Andrews Enactus group called Save.
This scheme involves the sale of the ruby cup, a menstruation protection product, and using the profits to provide sanitary products to homeless women in Fife.
The tampon tax debate in St Andrews comes as the House of Commons voted against abolishing the VAT charges on sanitary products just last week.