When is a tax not a tax

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Westminster politicians are presently arguing over the ethics of taxation; its value to public services, and its fairness to those who pay. Yet many in Scotland fall shy of recognising that ‘charges’ imposed upon disabled and elderly people for personal and social care are, in reality, ‘taxes’.

Could this be because ‘taxing care’ to ‘vulnerable’ people, may be seen as politically insensitive?

Or, could the cost-effectiveness of ‘taxing care’ be seen as too politically risky to the scrutiny of public auditing agencies; as its administration costs are 15%, compared with the 0.83% for income tax, or even 4% for council tax?

Or, could ‘taxing care’ up to a rate of 95% of personal income, just be political dynamite? But that is precisely what those in receipt of care have to pay – leaving them in a state of abject poverty, both materially and socially.

Charging for ‘care’ began with the post-war welfare legislation and the creation of ‘home helps’, who were to be an additional support to new-borne children and their mothers. Local authorities could, if they wished, levy a ‘charge’ for such help.

However, the emphasis today has moved such ‘help’ away from new mothers to helping severely disabled and elderly people to remain in their own homes, rather than large hospitals. So what could have been seen as a little ‘extra’ has become an essential support to the health and welfare of disabled and elderly people – and elderly people still do need to pay for social care, like cleaning and shopping; only ‘personal’ care, like washing and eating, is free to them.

Such care has always been associated with the elderly. However, there are 30,900 disabled people dependent on personal and social care, many of whom could not participate in society, if it were not for such assistance from local authorities.

In fact, a new campaigning group of disabled people, Scotland Against the Care Tax (SACT), contends that such assistance is a human right against which a tax should not be levied. They also believe the Scottish Government is breaching several equality laws. To this end SACT is seeking legal opinion from a QC.

Local authorities are now promoting the term ‘co-payment’. This term comes from the American private health care sector, which believes that if their insured clients were not made to pay an additional ‘co-payment’, health care claims would be not only unmanageable but uninsurable. In fact, the same attitude prevails amongst Scottish local authorities. Their ‘co-payments’ are charged over and above the other ‘normal’ taxes disabled people pay, including NI and the council tax. But they are charged at such an exorbitant rate the use of care taxes can be plainly seen as providing a gatekeeping role to essential services disabled and elderly people require to exercise their citizenship and equal participation within society.

Granted, care in Scotland costs around £2.93b. To this, a mere 5% is added from the care tax. However, this care tax can mean a weekly choice for the taxpayer between paying for care or food.

The care tax is iniquitous in other ways. Different local authorities charge at different rates and in different ways. For example, if ‘John’, living in Falkirk, moves over the Kincardine Bridge to Alloa, he would be taxed twice as much. But if he moves to Fife, just a few miles on, he would pay nothing at all.

The Scottish Government is talking with CoSLA (but sadly not with disabled people) about creating a standardised ‘Financial Assessment Template’ to iron out such iniquities. As the proposal guarantees no local authority will get less money, it follows that nearly every care taxpayer will pay more.

Not only are care taxes going up, but the criteria for care are narrowing to such an extent that only those in dire need are eligible. Many who, with such help, could get a job, or train for a career, cannot because they do not meet such narrow criteria.

Therefore, the care tax is being used to maintain the poverty and dependency of disabled and elderly people in the community, and to deny them their right to participate therein, as equal citizens.

On the 17th of February, 2015, SACT representatives will be asking the Scottish Government’s Petitions Committee to abolish the care tax completely. But will the politicians be listening?

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About jimelderwoodward

Disabled people's rights activist living in Scotland, promoting the principles and practices of independent living, the outcome of which is participative parity as equal citizens in all areas of community life - economic, civic, social and cultural
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