VAT: women’s sanitary products

Part of Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:45 am ar 7 Gorffennaf 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords) 11:45, 7 Gorffennaf 2016

I want to start by thanking the Government. I am pleased that it is hoped that clause 115 will stand part of the Bill; it is a good move by the Government. I welcome the huge amount of hard work done last year by my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss and by Members across the House on raising this matter. I appreciate the work that was done, and the fact that the Government have included this clause in the Bill.

I want to talk about our intention. In amendment 1 we are looking at the removal of the exemption from the zero rate for incontinence products. I understand that the Government’s proposal does not include incontinence products. There is some technical language in VAT legislation relating to people with disabilities and their ability to claim zero-rate VAT on incontinence products. However, that does not apply across the board to everybody who has incontinence problems; it applies only to those who meet the specific criteria that were drafted.

We have real concerns about that. Just because somebody is not registered disabled does not mean that they do not need to use incontinence products. That is a serious issue and the Government should not charge VAT in that case. If somebody has problems with incontinence, these products are necessary for their wellbeing and in their everyday life. The Government need to look again at the earlier legislation.

If we could have broadened the clause to include men’s incontinence products as well as women’s, we would have done that. However, because the clause was titled “VAT: women’s sanitary products”, we could not. That is why we are broadening it to include only women’s incontinence products. For clarity, we are talking about incontinence products that women are required to use but that do not fall into the exemption categories in the original VAT legislation.

Amendment 2 concerns products for the absorption of breast milk. I assume neither of the Ministers here has breastfed, so they may not know all the ins and outs of how this works. I breastfed both my children for about three years in total, so I have some experience. The amendment proposes that

“products that are designed, and marketed, as being solely for use for absorbing breastmilk” be zero-rated for VAT.

Breastfeeding is incredibly important and has huge health benefits for mother and child. It is completely and totally natural and is what a woman’s body expects to happen after she has had a child. When breastfeeding a child, it takes a while for the milk supply and the child’s feeding to balance. There is a period where the mother has too much or too little milk—usually too much, so there is an awful lot of leaking of milk. People do not usually talk about this in public, but there are stories about it all over the internet. In one case, a woman was at a job interview, at which somebody mentioned children, and suddenly there was a let-down, which means milk coming out at speed. Absorption products are absolutely necessary. It is vital for women to have breast pads that go inside the bra and absorb breast milk when that let-down happens. That happens not to all women, but to a huge number.

These products are required; they are not in any way a luxury. They are not something that women could do without, unless they were willing to bring several changes of clothes with them, which is not particularly practical when they are already doing absolute heaps of washing because they have a new baby.

We tabled the amendment to highlight the fact that this is another anomaly where something that women need is not zero-rated for VAT. I am unsure whether we will press the amendment to a vote, but I would appreciate it if the Minister indicated whether he is willing to consider moving on this matter. If he is, we will consider withdrawing the amendment; if not, we will seriously consider pressing it to a Division. I stress the importance of breastfeeding, because women might be put off by the cost of these products. Anything we can do to make breastfeeding cheaper, easier and more convenient for women is a very good thing, so I would appreciate it if the Government considered the amendment.