THE Scottish Government should “consider ending the council tax freeze”, Nicola Sturgeon’s poverty tsar has said as concerns were highlighted that the flagship SNP policy may not have helped the poorest.
Naomi Eisenstadt, the Scottish Government’s independent adviser on poverty and inequality said there are “disagreements about the equality and poverty impacts of the freeze”, in her first report for Ms Sturgeon.
In another blow to the SNP’s policy platform, Ms Eisenstadt warned that free universal services, can lead to “spreading a limited budget too thinly to help those who need the service the most”.
The report on inequality and poverty suggested that a shift away from universalism to targeted provision could still see services “delivered without stigma” and stated that “services for poor people do not have to be poor services”.
On the council tax freeze, Ms Eisenstadt said that there may be “those on low incomes at or above the poverty threshold, who may not be covered by full council tax reduction”.
She stated that the freeze had come “at a cost” to councils, some of which have claimed the policy has led to key services being starved of funding.
The findings were published as the SNP government is under growing pressure about the freeze, which the party introduced soon after it came to power in 2007.
Moray last week became the first local authority in Scotland to rebel against the policy and confirmed that council bills could rise by as much as 18 per cent this year in the area.
Ms Eisenstadt said that councils had highlighted how the freeze had cost £2.5 billion since 2008 – a year after the SNP came to power.
In her report, she said: “The current policy platform includes a council tax freeze and council tax reduction, interventions which jointly protect all households from increasing council tax bills, but at a cost, and with disagreements about the equality and poverty impacts of the freeze.
“The Scottish Government should consider ending the council tax freeze from 2017/18 onwards.”
Ms Sturgeon, responding to the findings, said: “When I appointed Naomi to the role I was clear that she would work independently and be frank and challenging in her scrutiny of not only the work the Scottish Government was doing to alleviate poverty and inequality, but also what more can be done.”