‘Mask tax’ row as Rishi Sunak refuses to extend VAT holiday on PPE

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, has refused to extend a VAT holiday on personal protective equipment, with Labour describing the move as a “mask tax”.

The Government said prices for personal protective equipment (PPE) had come down since the start of the pandemic – when demand was outstripping supply – and it now had sufficient stockpiles to deliver equipment to hospitals and care homes through the winter.

But critics claim putting 20 per cent onto the price of disposable face coverings will cost the average family an extra £15 per month.

The temporary abolition of VAT on disposable face coverings will expire at the end of October, having been extended in August. The Government defended the move, arguing that the VAT holiday on PPE had served its purpose.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It is probably worth me setting out what the VAT relief on PPE was designed to do, and that was to accelerate supply to the health and social care sectors when supply did not match demand earlier this year. What it did was save them around £200 million when they needed it.

“Prices and supply have now stabilised and we have committed to providing free PPE to every adult care home, who have been the main beneficiaries of this tax relief, until March 2021. Also, most businesses can recover any VAT that they will incur [when buying] PPE as business expenses.”

Families can avoid paying more for personal PPE by using washable face coverings, which are also more environmentally friendly because they cut down on waste.

However, the shadow financial secretary to the Treasury, James Murray, said the decision was “the last thing” families need, adding: “It’s unbelievable that the Government wants to introduce a mask tax in the middle of a pandemic.

“With Covid cases on the rise across the country, the Government should be doing all it can to help people follow its own guidance to wear a mask, not ramping up the cost of buying one.

“Families across the country are already struggling financially as a result of the crisis. The last thing they need is to be penalised for doing the right thing.”

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