Policy shift

Yousaf signals end to universal free services

Humza Yousaf: targeting those in need (pic: Terry Murden)

Humza Yousaf has given strong indications that universal free public services will be dropped as he tackles tough spending decisions.

The First Minister signalled a u-turn on what has been a key policy area for the SNP but is now weighing heavily on the public finances.

Aside from possibly scrapping some plans, including an extension of free school meals into secondary schools, there could be changes to the proposed National Care Service.

At a cross-party summit in Edinburgh yesterday on tackling poverty, the new SNP leader called for shared ideas from the political spectrum, charities and others engaged in providing social services.

Mr Yousaf favours raising taxes on higher earners to pay for public services, but is also putting cutbacks on the agenda.

Free tuition fees and prescription charges, as well as extensions of concessionary bus fares have been a cornerstone of SNP policy and these are unlikely to change.

However, ministers are now being asked to re-assess some pledges in the 2021 Holyrood election manifesto.

Mr Yousaf said that circumstances were changing but he also blamed the “UK government’s mismanagement of the economy” for prompting a rethink.

“We must do more. We must be bold in considering future tax decisions,” he said. “Tough choices will need to be made about existing budgets, and we need to consider whether targeting help is the way forward when money is so tight.

“It’s not enough to wish poverty away. We have to be hardheaded and realistic about what can be done and then we have to focus on making it happen.”

He said he is willing to consider means-testing as a way of targeting help to those most in need.

“I’ve got a 14-year-old now,” he told the Daily Record. “Should people be paying for her free school meals when I earn a first minister’s salary?

“I don’t think that’s the right way to use that money. I think the better way to use the money is to target it to those that need it absolutely the most.”

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