Scottish Labour’s proposal to increase child benefit would lift only a fraction of children out of poverty, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The party wants to top-up the payment by £5 per week for every child in Scotland, and has the backing of anti-poverty campaigners.
However the First Minister said the Scottish Government is looking at other options for an income supplement which would have “maximum effectiveness” in helping the most deprived families.
She was challenged on the issue by Labour leader Richard Leonard following a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which estimated one in four Scots children are living in poverty.
The report found ministers have not taken the “decisive steps” needed to tackle the issue.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Mr Leonard said: “One act that would make an immediate difference to child poverty is increasing child benefit.
“Over the last year this Parliament has passed a Social Security Act and a Child Poverty Act.
“In voting through both these acts SNP MSPs opposed proposals to increase child benefit.
“Yet this policy has support across civic Scotland.”
Mr Leonard went on to claim the policy would lift 30,000 children out of poverty, and suggested the figure could form a 2019 target for the Government.
“How much longer is this Government going to tinker around the edges, and how many more children in Scotland will grow up in grinding poverty as a result,” he asked.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The estimate shows that that policy would lift 20,000 children out of poverty, which would mean a drop in child poverty of just two percentage points.
“I am not saying that is insignificant, but what I am saying is that if we’re going to introduce an income supplement – which we are committed to doing – we must make sure that the money invested in that has maximum effectiveness in tackling child poverty.
“So what we’re looking at is the best way to do that, because with the policy that Richard Leonard is proposing, seven out of every £10 invested would go to families who are not living in poverty.
“The question is, if we’re going to invest this scale of money, how do we lift not just 20,000 children out of poverty, how do we lift even more children out of poverty?”