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The Government Can No Longer Deny It’s Profiting Off The Pandemic

VAT exemption PPE
Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash

Roar writer Dani Jones argues against the UK government’s removal of the VAT exemption on PPE, put in place at the start of the pandemic.

After everything that has happened in the last few months, I suppose I should not be surprised by the government seeking to profit off the pandemic. However, it still feels like a low blow to every healthcare professional and business that has worked had to become Covid compliant.

The Treasury confirmed on October 23 that personal protective equipment (PPE) will no longer be exempt from Value Added Tax (VAT). The temporary waiver on VAT will come to an end on October 31, six months after being introduced.

Essentially, this means all items of PPE is now subjected to 20% VAT. Every gown, mask, glove, and visor for healthcare professionals will become more expensive. With Covid cases spiking again, I cannot fathom why the government would seek to make the essential items that protect us more expensive.

The British Dental Association published a press release to its members warning that “Rishi Sunak’s failure to extend the VAT exemption for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will heap further pressures on health and social care providers already facing an uncertain future.” Dentists will need to cough up extra cash at a time when they’re facing huge waiting lists and backlogs due to lockdown.

Even more disheartening was the lack of coverage surrounding the discontinuation of the VAT exemption by mainstream media. On the BBC’s News App, the only mention on the day of the announcement was under the “Business” section – it did not make front-page news. The only reason I heard explaining the exemption ending was the Guardian’s article on the story, which appeared on my Facebook feed.

Many of those I have spoken to had no idea the exemption was coming to an end or had not considered that such important items would ever be subjected to VAT. Indeed, other countries, such as Belgium, have chosen to keep the VAT exemption until at least December 31.

Small businesses will be hit the hardest. Hairdressers and bars, as well as many other businesses that are required to provide staff with PPE to allow them to stay open, have suffered greatly with multiple lockdowns across the UK. Now, they are faced with a 20% increase in the prices of the items that allow them to run.

It is truly worrying that the government has the power to decide to make PPE VAT exempt or at least charge the reduced rate of VAT but has decided not to. For weeks during the first lockdown, we clapped for our carers and key workers. It seems those in power have already turned their backs on them.

I feel the money saved if Rishi Sunak chose to keep the VAT exemption could be better spent by the NHS on supporting its many workers who are suffering severe burnout. Staff are working long hours, in hot and uncomfortable PPE, dealing with the sickest of patients. Doctors, nurses, cleaners, porters, admin staff and everyone else who keeps the NHS ticking over need support. The NHS needs support – not extra expenditure on the very items that keep its key workers safe.



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