Poverty tsar changed report after ‘discussions’ with ministers

Naomi Eisenstadt, the Scottish Government's independent advisor on poverty and inequality. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Naomi Eisenstadt, the Scottish Government's independent advisor on poverty and inequality. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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The Scottish Government’s independent poverty adviser altered a flagship report after “discussions” with ministers, it has emerged.

But Naomi Eisenstadt yes-terday defended her independence and insisted that the changes were not down to any pressure from the SNP.

The potential impact of cuts to local government funding were contained in an early draft of the document. But the section was deleted, and did not appear in the final version that was published last year.

Changes were also made to sections covering the impact of the council tax freeze and universal benefits such as free bus travel and fuel allowances for older people.

Ms Eisenstadt said yesterday she was asked to change a heading on the report but “can’t remember” if she was asked to make further alterations. She said she “didn’t have to make changes”, adding that she is “less concerned with transparency” than with anti-poverty progress.

She added: “In terms of independence, one thing that’s really important to stress is that if at any time I had felt undue pressure I would have walked away, and that was clear to the Scottish Government.

“I stand on what the government is actually doing as opposed to how words were drafted and what was said at various times.

“It’s what they actually do that matters to me.

“There’s a difference between influence and [changes] had to make. Yes of course there were discussions and of course I was willing to move on some things and not on others.”

In her draft report she wrote the SNP’s council tax freeze policy “is not an anti-poverty measure”, which was later deleted.

The title of a recommendation was changed from “end the council tax freeze” to “be bold on local tax reform”.

Ms Eisenstadt said how the deletion came about is “irrelevant”.

But Labour yesterday demanded a ministerial statement on the issue at Holyrood before the Scottish Budget is passed next month.

Deputy leader Alex Rowley said: “Scotland deserves better than an SNP government that tries to whitewash its own record.

“Everyone knows that the council tax freeze benefited the wealthiest over the poorest.

“Instead of scrapping the council tax as promised, the SNP now only tinkers around the edges. Labour’s fairer plan would see 80 per cent of households paying less.

“The initial draft of Naomi Eisenstadt’s report confirmed what Labour has said for years: council cuts hurt the poorest communities.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said that Ms Eisenstadt had “robustly” held the government to account.

She added: “As Ms Eisenstadt herself made clear, the recommendations in her report, Shifting the Curve, ‘are mine, as an independent adviser’.

“The recommendation to end the council tax freeze is included in both the two draft reports and the final report.”