Labour fires opening Budget salvo in call to lift 30,000 out of child poverty

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The Scottish Government must use Holyrood’s new welfare powers to lift tens of thousands of youngsters out of poverty, Labour leader Richard Leonard has said as he unveiled the first of his party’s Budget demands.

A £5 weekly top-up to child benefit in the Budget for 2019/20 would lift 30,000 children out of poverty in Scotland, Mr Leonard has said.

Leonard wants child benefit top-up, says struggling families 'need help now'. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Leonard wants child benefit top-up, says struggling families 'need help now'. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

The Scottish Government has pledged to introduce an income supplement by 2022, but poverty campaigners say “struggling families” can’t afford to wait.

Communities secretary Aileen Campbell last night insisted tackling poverty and inequality was a “central mission” of the government.

Finance secretary Derek Mackay publishes his draft Budget next month.

Labour says its plans would give a cost-of-living boost to half a million families across the country.

More than 200,000 children in Scotland are classed as living in poverty and 487,000 people in work are paid less than the Living Wage.

Mr Leonard said: “This is affecting household budgets, with many families struggling to pay bills, feed and clothe their families.

“All these factors are undermining the economy with growth and investment predicted to be slow because of poverty wages.

“Against that backdrop, we need a Budget that supports public services, tackles inequality, puts more money into households and supports jobs and the economy.

“The SNP government has failed to tackle poverty and inequality.”

The £5 weekly top-up would increase child benefit by £260 a year and lift an estimated 30,000 children out of poverty, according to Labour.

John Dickie, from the Child Poverty Action group, said last night: “Struggling families can’t wait four years.

“A £5 top-up to child benefit could lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty across Scotland. There’s no question that rising poverty is being driven by UK government policy but the Scottish Parliament can and must use every tool in its toolbox to protect our children as a matter of utmost urgency.”

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, added: “Delivering the supplement by topping up child benefit would unlock tens of thousands of children from poverty. These children and their families cannot wait until 2022. They need this support now.”

But there are concerns that child benefit is not the best way to target poverty. Other estimates suggest the £5 weekly top-up would lift 15,000 out of poverty, with concerns the Labour plans would see just £3 out of every £10 spent going to children in poverty.

Ms Campbell said: “It is vital we target action and investment on policies that can lift the maximum number of children out of poverty and topping up child benefit won’t provide a quick or easy solution.”