NICOLA Sturgeon's poverty tsar, Naomi Eisenstadt, delivered her report on tackling inequality this week. It was worded diplomatically, so much so that some observers felt they could detect the sanitising hand of the Scottish Government officials who worked alongside her.

I don't agree. From the outset, Ms Eisenstadt said she would seek to exert influence in a constructive rather than confrontational way. Bearing that in mind, the general thrust of the report is clear, and it raises serious questions about some of the government's most cherished policies. If you are still not convinced, it also includes a sting in the tail that could put real pressure on ministers to justify their approach. More on that later.

First, the report itself.

Ms Eisenstadt says the Scottish Government isn't doing badly when it comes to tackling poverty, singling out measures such as mitigating the effect of the so-called bedroom tax for praise. But, with one in five Scots in relative poverty after housing costs are accounted for, she says ministers could do more.

A couple of her conclusions stand out.

The council tax freeze, she said, has helped protect people's incomes "but at a cost, and with disagreements about the equality and poverty impacts". In other words, the £2.5billion it cost has to freeze bills since 2008 has not necessarily been targeted at those who need help the most.

The freeze should end, she suggested, before a fairer system is introduced.

But there was a bigger challenge to a government that's put great store by its support for universal entitlements: its free university tuition, free prescriptions for all, free bus travel for the over-60s and free meals for all five- to seven-year-olds.

There needs to be a debate, she said, about which services should be universal and which should be targeted at those most in need.

"Universal access can sometimes be no more expensive, avoiding the bureaucratic costs of testing eligibility," she wrote.

"However, universal can also mean spreading a limited budget too thinly to help those who need the service the most, and making little difference for those who need it less but choose to use it." She was very clear that targeted services could be provided without stigma.

Ms Eisenstadt did not dwell on particular universal entitlements though her comments about pensioners - "enjoying the benefits of a strong economy of the past" - could be interpreted as a frown at bus passes or winter fuel payments.

Where universal services are justified her preference is for "proportionate universalism," the idea that we all have access to a GP but that surgeries should be concentrated where they are needed most, ie in poorer areas.

Overall, the report should make awkward reading for a government committed, as a priority, to reducing inequality.

But what are the chances minsters will look more closely at universal entitlements in that context?

Not high. Johann Lamont, the former Scottish Labour leader, used a column in the Daily Record a couple of weeks ago to try to reopen the debate. It was met with a flurry of wild SNP press releases accusing her of attacking public services and denouncing her "toxic rhetoric". Last year, when a leaked Scottish Government report revealed ministers were "considering the eligibility criteria" for soon-to-be-devolved winter fuel payments, the plan was hurriedly quashed by social justice secretary Alex Neil, who made clear that payments of up to £300 for all 1.1million Scots aged over 62, rich or poor, were safe.

The SNP seems determined to avoid the kind of debate Ms Eisenstadt says is key to tackling poverty. For opponents such as Ms Lamont it is deeply frustrating and adds to a sense that the Nationalists' approach has more to do with populism than principle.

Which is why the sting in the tail of Ms Eisenstadt's report is so interesting.

Her 15th and final recommendation calls on ministers to use Holyrood's new powers to implement a part of a Harriet Harman's Equalities Act that was jettisoned by the last Coalition Government. Known as the "socio-economic duty" it could be used to oblige ministers to assess policies in terms of their impact on the poor and the contribution they make to tackling inequality.

The move, says Ms Eisenstadt, would "enable a good test on the universal versus targeted debate".

Let's see how Ms Sturgeon responds to that one.