Child poverty was increasing in Scotland before the pandemic hit, the latest figures show, moving further away from the Government’s targets to tackle the problem.
Data released on Thursday shows 26% of children were living in relative poverty in 2019/20 – around 260,000 youngsters.
This is up from 23% in 2018/19, when around 230,000 children were living in relative poverty.
Households which are in poverty under this measurement have incomes below 60% of the median (middle) UK income.
The 2017 Child Poverty (Scotland) Act, which was supported by all parties at Holyrood, set targets to reduce child poverty to less than 18% by 2024 and less than 10% by 2030.
Campaigners said the latest data is “utterly dismaying” and called for the new Scottish child payment benefit to be at least doubled.
Almost 100,000 applications were made for the £10-a-week benefit when it launched earlier this year.
Child Poverty Action Group director John Dickie said: “It is utterly dismaying to see thousands more children across Scotland had been locked in poverty even before the pandemic struck.
“That so many more children face the daily stress of seeing their parents fret over paying bills, buying food or getting into debt should be a source of national shame.
“Behind these statistics are children whose health is being undermined, education diminished and life chances cut short.
“The good news on a day of dismaying statistics is that here in Scotland many families are now already benefiting from the Scottish Government’s new £10-a-week Scottish child payment.
“These new figures demonstrate forcefully why the payment needs to be at the very least doubled as the next vital and urgent step toward meeting the child poverty targets agreed by all the Holyrood parties.
“We need every level of government working together to end the scandal of child poverty in a rich country.
“This rise in child poverty has been driven by eye-watering cuts to UK family benefits over recent years.
“Action to increase child benefit, end the two-child limit and make the Universal Credit uplift permanent must now also be an absolute priority for UK ministers”.
Responding to the latest figures, Scottish Labour’s Pauline McNeill said: “Child poverty has risen throughout 14 years of SNP failure and on the watch of Boris Johnson’s Tories.
“Scottish Labour is fighting this election on the people’s priorities: kickstarting our economy, protecting our NHS and fighting child poverty through a national recovery plan.
“We now need a revision of the child poverty strategy in the coming parliament to recognise the unfortunate steep rise in child poverty.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “These figures are truly shocking. No child should ever have to live in poverty.
“Knowing that the Government has not done enough to help families, young parents and children is heart-breaking.
“The figures are pre-Covid, and there is a real risk that the situation will have worsened.”