Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to bring forward plans to tackle child poverty by Labour’s Richard Leonard.
In the wake of a report forecasting child poverty in Scotland will hit a 20-year high, the Scottish party leader has written to Ms Sturgeon to call for action.
Mr Leonard has asked the First Minister to either introduce an income supplement sooner than a planned start date of 2022 or increase child benefit by £5 per week.
“It is my view that the poorest families in Scotland cannot afford to wait any longer,” he wrote.
“I am writing to you today to ask that you bring forward plans for an income supplement as a matter of urgency.
“It should be in your next programme for government and in the next Scottish budget.
“If you believe that the Government is not capable of bringing forward these proposals in the next 12 months then I would urge the Government to increase child benefit by £5 per week.”
Studies into child poverty released this week highlighted the expected rise in the number of children living below the poverty line.
Research by the Resolution Foundation warned that an extra 60,000 children risk being plunged into poverty by 2023-24, almost a third of all Scottish children.
The think tank warned that if the Scottish Government does not take radical action, it will miss its own child poverty target of reducing relative poverty to below 18% by 2023-24, equivalent to more than 100,000 children.
While UK-wide benefit policies are blamed for driving up poverty in Scotland and the rest of the UK, the Scottish Government “has not announced plans remotely large enough to counteract that rise,” the Foundation claimed.
Scottish Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said: “This report is a stark reminder of the challenges we face to end child poverty in Scotland.
“We are tackling child poverty with one hand behind our back in the face of the devastating impact of the UK Government’s welfare cuts and benefits freeze which are set to push thousands more of the poorest and most vulnerable families into poverty.
“We are doing all we can with the powers we have to mitigate those cuts, protect people on low incomes, and secure our ambitions to eradicate child poverty and have a range of actions and a multi-million pound package of investment to deliver on that.”
Another report, released by the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland, forecasts a further 80,000 children will be pushed into poverty by 2021.
Referencing the study, Mr Leonard added: “It would be wrong to walk by on the other side while an additional 80,000 children grow up in poverty.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Topping up child benefit will not deliver the greatest impact for the families who need it most.
“That is why we are working towards a new income supplement, to provide additional financial support to low income families.
“We have been working closely with stakeholders to look at all options for that, guided by two key principles – reaching the greatest number of children in poverty, and ensuring we top up incomes sufficiently to lift those households out of poverty. We will provide an update on this work in June.”