A SNP minister has given his backing to proposed legal action against the UK Government’s flagship benefit reform.

Mike Russell said the Scottish Government would be “very sympathetic” to the Children’s Commissioner’s threat to challenge Universal Credit in court if it plunges children into poverty.

Bruce Adamson yesterday warned the welfare reform, which rolls six existing benefits into a single cash payment, could leave children without essentials like a warm home and hot meals.

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Mr Russell, a former education secretary who is now leading Scotland’s Brexit negotiations, said the Children’s Commissioner “deserves all the support he can get” for his proposed legal action.

“I think we would be very sympathetic to that action,” Mr Russell told the BBC.

“The approach of the UK Government on social security and welfare is truly appalling. It is impoverishing people and it is leading to despair.

“I know that as a constituency MP from my caseload. So in all those circumstances I think anybody who is standing up against that and arguing for a practical resolution to the awful, ideological problems being brought by the Tories, I think it deserves all the support he can get.”

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland receives its annual budget from the Scottish Parliament, so funding for any legal action is likely to come from the Scottish budget.

Mr Russell said any funding for legal action would have to be discussed with Scottish ministers.

He added: “I do think the Children’s Commissioner is saying something that needs to be said and proposing practical action if he can’t get change.

“We thought there was going to be change, that is what the Chancellor announced in the budget, but they don’t appear to be as effective as they need to be.”

Mr Adamson said that poverty is now the biggest human rights issue facing children in Scotland and called for political leadership to ensure they are protected from welfare reform.

Universal Credit has faced fierce criticism over claims some people had to wait six weeks for their first payment, leading to debt, rent arrears and evictions.

However, the UK Government said Universal Credit was helping people improve their lives and insisted the system was working.

Mr Adamson said: “While we don’t have the Convention on the Rights of the Child within our domestic law yet, we do have the Humans Rights Act which brings in the European Convention on Human Rights and the courts look very closely if a state falls below that minimum standard required, where the state fails to provide those basics of life.

“So certainly if children in Scotland aren’t getting those basic things then legal action may be the way to take this forward. But it’s not the best way.”

He added: “We really need political leadership here and we need to make sure that we are never in a situation where children are going without the basics that they need.”

Scottish Conservative social security spokesman Adam Tomkins MSP said: “The UK Government is rolling out Universal Credit in a gradual, safe and secure way, and in the cases where problems arise, they are working with local authorities and landlords to support people when they need it.

“No one doubts that there have been issues regarding the introduction of Universal Credit, which is why the UK Government announced a range of measures worth £1.5 billion to help ensure claimants get their money earlier than before.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Universal Credit lies at the heart of our commitment to help people improve their lives and raise their incomes.

“It provides additional, tailored support to help people move into work and stop claiming benefits altogether.

“And it’s working. With Universal Credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.”

It came as a new report warned a “turning point” has been reached in the fight against poverty following the first sustained increases in child and pensioner poverty for 20 years.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said almost 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners are living in poverty than four years ago, with little progress in reducing poverty among working age adults.

Its state of the nation report said poverty rates increased last year, leaving 14 million people living in poverty, including four million children and 1.9 million pensioners.