U.K. Ministers to Raise Issue of 'Tampon Tax' With European Commission

British government ministers have pledged to raise the issue of the so-called "tampon tax" on sanitary products with the European Commission, although they have warned that the EU rules governing the controversial levy would be unlikely to change, according to the BBC.

On Monday, Labour won cross-party support in the House of Commons for an amendment to the Finance Bill that would have forced Chancellor George Osborne to publish a strategy for negotiating an exemption from the tax within three months. However, the government managed to pass the bill with a majority of 18, partly because Finance Minister David Gauke pledged to raise the matter with the European Commission.

British women currently pay a five percent levy on tampons and sanitary pads because they are classified as non-essential luxury items by the EU. The VAT rate charged in the U.K. is the lowest allowed under EU law—among the other 28 EU member states, 17 percent is the average rate paid, according to Sky News.

Gauke, the financial secretary to the Treasury, told the House of Commons that he recognized the growing support for a change to the tax. "This debate illustrates there is very considerable cross-party support for the UK to abolish VAT on sanitary products," he said.

"To that end I will raise this issue with the European Commission and other member states setting out our views that it should be possible for member states to apply a zero-rate to sanitary products."

However, Gauke also warned that any change would require a European Commission proposal and the unanimous agreement of all 28 member states. "I do not want to conceal from the House we don't have flexibility in this circumstances, nor do I want to conceal from the House the challenge that would exist in reaching an agreement," he told the Commons.

The amendment to the finance bill was tabled by the Labour MP Paula Sherriff, yet gained support from eurosceptic Conservative MPs concerned about the loss of UK sovereignty. Sherriff told the Commons that the VAT charge hits the poorest the hardest. "Imagine, for example, being homeless when that time of the month comes," she said. "Think what it's like to face a period without even having a bathroom."

One of the Conservatives supporting the motion, Bernard Jenkin, said the charge served as "an example of where the EU has taken over jurisdiction over our tax where it should not have."

Those campaigning against the tax have pointed out that the average women will spend £18,450 ($28,290) on sanitary products in her lifetime, and £922 ($1,413) of this will be tax.