SCOTTISH foster carers are being forced to subsidise basic expenses to cover the cost of providing shoes, clothing and activities for the children they look after, according to a leading charity.

The Fostering Network in Scotland said the Scottish Government has failed to introduce even a minimum level of allowances to cover the cost of looking after a fostered child.

The country is the only part of the UK without a statutory minimum standard of financial support for foster carers. According to new figures 88 per cent of councils pay less than the basic minimum support of £159 per week provided in Wales. A quarter do not even match the lower allowance rate for foster carers in England and Northern Ireland of £119 a week.

The charity said ministers have dragged their feet on the issue despite nine years of talks over introducing the allowance.

It said there was currently a postcode lottery of provision with some foster carers receiving as little as £77.69 per week, and being left dig into their own pockets to care for children on behalf of councils.

While the government has recently moved to ensure equality of support for kinship carers, who look after children related to them who cannot stay at home, this merely means kinships carers face inadequate financial support too.

Revealing the findings from a freedom of information request to Scottish councils, the Fostering Network claimed that at the lowest level of allowances in Scotland, after fostering a baby for one year, a foster carer will be £2,148.12 worse off than their counterpart in England.

The charity's director Sara Lurie said the government first agreed to consider a national minimum allowance nine years ago, since when 5,000 children per year have been looked after by foster carers north of the Border without the security of a national minimum allowance.

Ms Lurie added: “Good intentions can’t meet the needs of children if the hands are tied by financial constraints. We have repeatedly expressed concerns about foster carers potentially having to subsidise their fostering to the Scottish Government.

“The Scottish Government is abdicating its responsibility as corporate parent. The government has said that they will at some point pull together a working group to discuss national minimum foster carer allowances - however this has been promised for a number of years and not been delivered, as such we are concerned that their lack of haste will continue to mean that foster carers have to dig into their own pockets to ensure that children are properly supported.

She added: “Making the same promises for years does not help foster carers – action does. .

Ms Lurie said children’s services should not be run on the "good will" of those involved.

She added: "Without the introduction of minimum allowances to foster care, and then equalling it for kinship carers, the Scottish Government will perpetuate a postcode lottery of care, and that is not fair on those who dedicate their lives to caring for children who cannot live with their birth parents."

A spokesman for local councils' umbrella body, Cosla, said: “It is vital that councils have sufficient resources for the children in their care.

"As such, it would be important that this is borne in mind before any potential changes were to be considered for allowance rates for foster carers, given the £350 million cut to local government finances and other future factors such as the impact on kinship care allowances due to the introduction of Universal Credit’."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman “The Fostering Network correctly raises the importance of a national level of caring allowance so that kinship and foster families in every community in Scotland can expect the same level of support and we are committed to making that a reality.

Last year, we focused on helping local authorities to raise kinship allowances to the same level that foster carers receive, as they were at a greater disadvantage.

"We remain absolutely committed to working with local government and representatives of foster and kinship carers towards developing a unified national allowance.

“As each council has responsibility for setting their allowances we need to work with all 32 to create a national standard and TFN will also have a valuable role to play. This on-going collaboration – combined with legislation and partnership with groups like TFN – has allowed us to expand the support available to looked after children, raise the age they can claim support and seen the attainment of care experienced young people increase. We absolutely know the life changing difference that a good foster home makes and recognise that there is still much work to do.”