IT was the core purpose of the last Labour Government. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, despite their personal difficulties, were committed to eradicating child poverty by 2020.

Progress was made over Labour’s 13 years in power, but the target has long faded from view. The Tory Government moved the goalposts for defining poverty and the ambition has no chance of being realised

In Scotland, the problem is as acute as ever. After 17 years of devolution – and a decade of SNP rule – around 210,000 children live in poverty.

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However, it would be unfair to point the finger at the Scottish Parliament for the damning statistics.

The Parliament’s powers on taxation were limited for over a decade and its responsibility for social security was practically zero. The scope for MSPs to put money in the pockets of the poor was marginal.

Sweeping changes to the devolution settlement now provide Holyrood with a powerful toolkit. Not only can MSPs raise tax on the wealthy and middle Scotland, but 11 benefits once controlled by Whitehall will be under their remit.

The post-referendum settlement also allows the Scottish Parliament to “top up” reserved benefits, including support for families. Holyrood, for the first time, can legitimately set a target for abolishing child poverty. The ball is in the court of MSPs.

John Dickie, the director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland (CPAG), said: “Social security in all European countries plays a key role in reducing child poverty. Given that we have these levers now, it is vital that Government uses every tool in its tool box.”

Naomi Eisenstadt, the Scottish Government’s independent advisor on poverty and inequality, said “significant” reductions can be made to child poverty levels by Holyrood.

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And Peter Kelly, who is the director of the Poverty Alliance, agreed: “Everyone was saying during the Smith Commission process that we want powers for a purpose. I think there is enough scope within the powers we do have to start making a bigger impact.”

Ministers have consulted on plans to ensure that fewer than 10 per cent of children live in relative poverty by 2030 and will next week introduce a Child Poverty Bill. Proposals have also been unveiled to replace the Sure Start Maternity Grant with something more generous.

However, there is a difference between words and deeds. Experts on poverty want to see the resources of Government mobilised behind this goal. So what powers should be used?

Dickie said his organisation welcomed the commitment to replace Sure Start grants with a beefed-up alternative, but said the effect would be “fairly modest” in terms of the “overall impact on child poverty”.

He added: “Where we think the potential for the biggest impact to be made is to use the new power to top up reserved benefits.”

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This power, while expensive to use, provides MSPs with the means to slash child poverty rates and steer their own course on social security. For instance, while UK Ministers have frozen the value of child benefit – which pays £20.70 for the first child and £13.70 for additional children – Holyrood could make a different choice.

According to research commissioned by the CPAG, a £5-a-week boost would reduce child poverty by 14 per cent and lift 30,000 youngsters out of this malaise. And as child benefit becomes taxable when one member of a household earns £50,000 an increase would not benefit the wealthy.

Amy Woodhouse, the head of policy at the Children in Scotland body, also backs the move: "Topping-up child benefit has the advantage of having no impact on other benefits, has no effective marginal tax rate when re-entering work and, delivered universally, has 100 per cent uptake – meaning there is no stigma attached.”

According to the Scottish Greens, who favour a £5 increase, the Scottish Government has said little on topping-up reserved benefits.

"It's a worry that the Scottish Government's consultation on social security neglected to mention the ability to top-up reserved benefits, such as Child Benefit”, party MSP Alison Johnstone stated in December.

"When it comes to tackling poverty, it's time we turned words into action."

Angela Constance, the Scottish Government’s Equalities Secretary, said ideas like increasing child benefit were “absolutely legitimate and understandable” and said they would be considered in a “reflective and sensible way”.

However, Eisenstadt is sceptical of the call on child benefit. “I don’t think it is the best way to do it. I think it is too poorly targeted,” she said.

MSPs could also use their new powers to expand what was seen in many quarters as the last Labour Government’s most successful anti-poverty programme: tax credits for those on low incomes.

Between 1998/99 and 2012/13, the number of children in the UK living in families below the poverty line plummeted from 35 per cent to 19 per cent, a fall largely due to the tax credits.

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Eisenstadt supports tax credits, but is concerned the policy can subsidise low pay: “The balance is between how you use the tax credit system in a way that doesn’t let low payers off the hook.”

Cameron’s Government was sceptical about tax credits for a different reasons – the £30 billion price tag – and preferred raising the allowance at which individuals start to pay income tax.

However, it has been argued that this alternative Tory approach rewards higher-earning households at the expense of the poor. A family with both parents earning £11,000 apiece receive no financial gain from raising the tax free allowance, while a couple on £40,000 each pocket a tax cut.

Dickie said of the tax allowance policy: “It is a very ineffectual way of supporting the incomes of those families at risk of poverty.” Kelly agreed: “At one point, that was an effective way to boost the incomes of low-paid workers. But it ran out of steam some time ago.”

The Scottish Government could get off this treadmill - it backs a zero rate band for a portion of income - and instead top-up tax credits for struggling parents. Ploughing in an extra £200m would inevitably cut poverty levels. A more far-reaching approach on social security is supported by Professor Kirstein Rummery, based at Stirling University. She believes the “most effective” way of reducing child poverty would be introducing a universal basic income.

“The evidence from pilots internationally shows that is an incentive, not a disincentive to work – because single parents (90 per cent of which are women) have the capacity and resources to look for work and to take flexible work that fits around their caring responsibilities.”

She added: “It would reduce the need for foodbanks and the stigma of poverty, and it would be most beneficial on the under fives which is where we know we need to target interventions.”

A number of experts believe that focusing on wages, rather than just on social security, is a critical part of reducing child poverty.

Eisenstadt, who has the ear of the First Minister, supports the Government’s initiative to encourage employers to sign up to the living wage.

Russell Gunson, the Director of IPPR Scotland think tank, said that tax credits and rethinking social security “may form part of the picture”, but argued: “The biggest contribution is likely to come from finding ways to get the Scottish economy delivering higher wages, and better career prospects across low-skilled and low-pay sectors. After all, half of all children in poverty are in working families.

“Reforming the skills system to support an economy in Scotland that improves wages and security for the poorest, narrowing attainment gaps at school and widening access to post-school education so that it is open to all, is likely to have significant effects on poverty levels in Scotland across the board over the longer term.”

Paying for redistribution is the tricky part politically. Figures produced by academics at the University of York estimated that increasing child benefit by £5 a week would cost £256m. The Scottish Liberal Democrats believe a 1p rise in the basic rate of income tax would raise almost twice that sum.

According to Scottish Labour, up to £110m could be raised by increasing the top rate of income tax to 50 per cent. Holyrood has options to transfer money between groups of people – if the political will exists.

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The Scottish Government has resisted increasing the tax rates for top earners, but Eisenstadt backs the move. “I believe in redistribution. I think we should have higher taxes at the top,” she said.

Asked if it would be reasonable to raise taxes on people earning over £100,000, she replied: “Yes.”

However, last week the Scottish Government spared the wealthy from higher income tax rates and neglected to say anything on topping-up benefits.

MSPs have the power to make child poverty history, but only if they have the courage to use the levers at their disposal.