A KEY recommendation made by Nicola Sturgeon's poverty advisor has been dismissed by SNP ministers just days after the expert revealed her long-awaited findings.
Naomi Eisenstadt, who was hired by the First Minister to scrutinise Scottish Government policies and come up with new ways of reducing inequality, called for fuel poverty programmes to be targeted at helping the poor.
However, the Scottish Government said it had "no plans" to strip automatic winter fuel payments, which see up to £300 a year handed out to pensioners regardless of wealth, from better off recipients once the benefit comes under Holyrood control.
Loading article content
Ms Eisenstadt, who warned Ms Sturgeon that tackling poverty meant taking "tough decisions", said yesterday that it was "wrong" that better-off older people like herself received the benefit when the money could instead be invested on those in greater need.
She also argued that older people had been "over-protected" in recent years at the expense of the young.
Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said the rejection of Ms Eisenstadt's position showed that the SNP "talk big but act small" on poverty.
He added: "Days after receiving a report from an independent expert on alleviating poverty in Scotland, the SNP are set to reject her recommendations out of hand. The SNP told us they needed power over welfare and benefits to make Scotland fairer but yet again it seems they have no plans to use the powers coming to Holyrood.
"For those at the bottom, the winter fuel allowance is the difference between being able to heat their homes or not but for many wealthier pensioners it is simply a nice little bonus to be spent on other things. There is a genuine debate to be had over whether this cash could be better spent elsewhere but the SNP don’t want to hear it."
While its policy has not yet been finalised, the LibDems are expected to go into May's Holyrood elections calling for fuel payments to be taken away from well-off pensioners, a position it advocated ahead of the general election when it said cash saved could be spent on subsidising public transport for young people.
Scottish Labour said that it did not propose changes to eligibility criteria for winter fuel allowances but accused the SNP of being in "an absolute mess" over the issue.
In October, a policy paper appeared to indicate that Scottish ministers were considering changes to eligibility, before Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil quickly promised not to abolish, cut or means-test the winter fuel payment once control is devolved.
A spokesman for Scottish Labour said: "First they admitted they were considering cuts, then they denied it when the public got wind of it. Now their own poverty advisor has recommended it be cut and yet again the government has had to deny it. It's an absolute mess."
Ms Eisenstadt, in a televised interview yesterday, also said the council tax freeze, one of the SNP's flagship policies over the past eight years, benefited the well-off at the expense of the poor.
She said: "The poorest people don't pay council tax. It does help better off people. The reason it's a disadvantage to poor people is that local authorities need the funding to fund services that mainly help the poorest people."
The University of Oxford Honorary Research Fellow also called for new studies to assess the impact of the SNP's free tuition fees policy to find out whether the cash could be better spent.
She said: "How do you spend your money most effectively? I think we have gone too far in Scotland on the universal side and not far enough on the targeting."
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: "Scottish Ministers have made it clear that they do not plan to cut or means-test winter fuel payments when the relevant powers are devolved. We are currently looking at how we can best use the limited devolved powers we are getting and to see if there are any areas where benefits can be used more effectively.
"The Scottish and UK Governments need to reach agreement on the fiscal framework and the extent of devolved powers in the Scotland Bill before we can make any decisions."