Scottish Government devolved tax system 'more progressive' than rest of UK, says think-tank

The Scottish Government’s devolved tax and benefits system is more progressive than elsewhere in the UK, according to a think-tank.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said changes to income tax rates mean those earning £50,000 will pay around £1,500 more in income tax this year than if they lived elsewhere in the UK.

Tax cuts for those on lower incomes are smaller and amount to at most £21 per year, the IFS said.

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The IFS has assessed Scotland's devolved taxation system. Picture: PAThe IFS has assessed Scotland's devolved taxation system. Picture: PA
The IFS has assessed Scotland's devolved taxation system. Picture: PA

But the think-tank said the Scottish Government’s five-band system for achieving this was unnecessarily complex and a similar effect could be achieved by introducing a new 0 per cent band for those on lower incomes.

A briefing note published by the IFS on Thursday also examined the case for further tax devolution.

It said this would reduce the scope for tax evasion, but would create many losers as well as winners, saying the Government has shied away from radical changes in property tax where powers are already devolved.

Stuart Adam, a senior research economist at the IFS and an author of the report, said: “The Scottish Government’s tax and benefit policies follow a strikingly consistent pattern – both over time and relative to the rest of the UK, they involve giveaways at the bottom and tax rises at the top.

“Changes to income tax, social security benefits, council tax, business rates, and land and buildings transaction tax have all contributed to that pattern.

“Changes to the way benefits are paid should make life easier for claimants. In contrast, the tax changes have tended to complicate the system.

“The additional complexity in income tax is particularly unnecessary. A very similar pattern of tax payments could have been achieved without the need for separate 19 per cent, 20 per cent and 21 per cent rates.”

David Phillips, associate director at the IFS, said: “The current Scottish Government has called for the devolution of National Insurance, capital gains tax and the remainder of income tax.

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“Doing this would mean Scottish income tax changes could apply to all income – reducing the scope for tax avoidance – and allow the Scottish Government to address inefficient and unfair differences in how different types of income are currently taxed.

“Whether this opportunity would be grasped is another matter though. The current Scottish Government has shied away from radical reform where powers are already devolved.”

Responding to the report, the SNP’s finance secretary Kate Forbes said: “This expert analysis makes clear that the SNP has ensured Scotland has the fairest, most progressive income tax in the UK, with a majority of taxpayers paying less than if they lived in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

“This report shows the positive consequences of the changes to income tax for many people in society – and is yet more proof of the SNP’s progressive approach to taxation.

“Tory cuts south of the border are hitting low-income families hard – while in Scotland we have taken positive action to protect public services, mitigate against the worst of the Tories’ cuts and properly fund our NHS and schools.

“We are committed to progressive taxation that, as is only right, ensures those who generally earn less are not asked to pay for tax breaks for the wealthiest – whilst delivering fairness for all taxpayers.”

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