The £10 Scottish Child Payment, for children six and under, was due to open for applications this autumn, with the first payments reaching families in December.
However the Scottish Government has said the coronavirus pandemic has put the benefit on hold and was unable to confirm when it would be paid next year.
One in four Scottish children were living in poverty before the outbreak of Covid-19 and there are growing fears this number could rise significantly as the looming economic crisis is predicted to leave 13 million people across the UK out of work.
Peter Kelly, Director of Poverty Alliance said: “Every day, families in Scotland are swept up in a rising tide of poverty. As the end of the furlough scheme and increasing unemployment looms, we need to get cash into the pockets of families who are struggling to stay afloat.
“When it comes into effect, the new Scottish Child Payment will be a critical lifeline to families. But the need for help is urgent. The Scottish Government should use its existing powers to provide the equivalent level of support - £10 per week per eligible child - to help people weather this storm.
”The UK Government must also play its part by ending the benefit cap, the two child limit and the five week wait for Universal Credit which is driving debt and destitution."
In a move to help low income families the Scottish Government has this week said it will, for the first time, use HMRC and DWP information to write directly to 22,000 people to inform them they may be eligible for Best Start Foods and the Best Start Grant, inviting them to apply.
It also revealed that the Scottish Welfare Fund had paid out £12.9m in crisis grants - up 24 per cent on 2018 - and £24.7m in community care grants in the last year.
However, Scottish Greens social security spokesperson Alison Johnstone MSP said without the Scottish Child Payment many families will be in even more need of help.
“Low income families are in crisis, so the hope that extra support would arrive before Christmas would have provided some comfort. Now it’s confirmed they won’t be able to apply until the end of the year, and won’t receive anything until next year. That’s very worrying, when demand for it is likely to be increasing even further,” she said.
“The fact is many of them simply cannot wait until the Scottish Child Payment arrives, and the increase in the Scottish Welfare Fund has yet to be distributed by many councils. The Scottish Government must urgently seek to plug the gap and get emergency support to those who need it.“
MSP Graham Simpson, Scottish Conservative communities spokesman added: “There is simply no reason not to provide the promised benefits, on time, to struggling families. This delay highlights the shambolic approach of the SNP government to the devolution of social security.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat social security spokesperson Caron Lindsay said: “Long before anyone had heard of Covid-19 there were serious concerns being expressed about the Scottish Government’s glacial progress in putting their new welfare powers to work. The government should be accelerating these payments, not delaying them even further.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said the social security benefits timetable changed “due to the impact of Covid-19” and added: “We are prioritising the introduction of the new Scottish Child Payment which will tackle child poverty head-on, and we aim to open it to people by the end of the year, with the first payments as soon as practicably possible in 2021.”
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