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Charities and unions unite to press for tax reform to tackle poverty


"The money is there, now the first minister must show that the political will is too and prioritise investment in our public service and communities”

Scotland’s first minister is being challenged to ‘prove his mettle’ on fair tax reform - amid fears that the modest progress towards building a fairer system could be shelved or even reversed. 

Campaigners and researchers from Oxfam Scotland, STUC, IPPR Scotland and the Scottish Women’s Budget Group say that if John Swinney is to deliver on his key priorities such as tackling poverty, investing in key public services and combatting the climate crisis, he must show political vision and leadership on tax. 

The organisations say that small-scale changes to income tax made in last year’s Scottish Budget should be protected, while work to kick-start more fundamental reforms – including to replace the council tax and to align Scotland’s broader tax system with the country’s climate ambitions – should be accelerated, alongside steps to better tax wealth. 

It echoes previous calls from more than 60 organisations, including the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland and others, for all Scottish party leaders to urgently cooperate to deliver wide-ranging and fair tax reforms to boost investment in key national priorities. 

With deep financial pressures on Scotland’s public services, the country’s poverty rate remaining stubbornly high, and economic inequalities on the rise, the first minister is being urged to show political leadership on fair tax reforms. The organisations say he must build cross-party support, while making the case that using fairer taxes to finance smarter public investment and to reduce poverty will support a more prosperous economy for all.   

With the Scottish Government postponing its new draft Tax Strategy, originally due this month, the organisations say that Swinney must move swiftly to lock in existing progress while making new commitments to target under-taxed wealth and to incentivise business practices which benefit both people and planet.

They say this will support a fairer and greener economy and ensure everyone shares in the benefits.  

Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “The first minister says he wants to eradicate child poverty, invest in schools and hospitals, and tackle the climate crisis – but to deliver meaningful progress, he must prove his mettle on fair tax reforms. The decision to delay the refresh of the government’s tax strategy shouldn’t stop the first minister from building upon positive changes to date by kick-starting common-sense, far-reaching tax reforms and from taking steps to build the cross-party support required to deliver them." 

The most recent Scottish Budget included small but positive changes to income tax but commitments to reform the council tax – often characterised as outdated and unfair - were further delayed, with ministers instead effectively helping the better off through a council tax freeze that does little to help people on low incomes.  

The organisations are calling for the first minister to urgently progress council tax reform, with charities, trade unions, academics, and campaign organisations uniting last February to call on Scotland’s political leaders to urgently revalue property across the country as a critical step towards fairly reforming Scotland’s broken and unfair system of local property taxation. 

Roz Foyer, STUC general secretary, said: “Scotland’s public services are on life support and desperately need new investment breathed into them. STUC analysis has shown that common sense, short-term changes to income and property taxes could raise an additional £1.1 billion for Scotland’s public purse. The money is there, now the first minister must show that the political will is too and prioritise investment in our public service and communities.”  

As well as helping to support public services and combatting poverty and economic inequality, fairer taxes would also boost gender equality efforts in Scotland. 

Carmen Martinez, coordinator of the Scottish Women’s Budget Group, said: "The existing unequal taxation of income from wealth and income from work makes gender inequality worse and essentially represents a tax break for wealthy men. The first minister must prioritise fair tax reforms to address this imbalance head-on and make sure our tax system and country works for everyone, not just the privileged, mostly male, few.” 

The organisations point to broad public support for the Scottish Government using the tax system to help narrow the gap between rich and poor and for raising more funds for vital public services, with the government’s own survey figures showing over half of the respondents (57%) agreed that government should redistribute income from the better off to those who are less well off. At the same time, just nine per cent of people think the government should reduce taxes and instead spend less on health, education and social benefits.   



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