NICOLA Sturgeon is being urged to expedite a new devolved benefit aimed at the poorest families after another 10,000 Scots children fell into relative poverty.

Campaigners and opposition parties pushed the First Minister to speed up the Scottish Government’s plan for a “child poverty income supplement”, which is not due for delivery until 2022.

It followed the latest poverty and income inequality figures showing 20 per cent of Scots, or 1.03m people, were in relative poverty after housing costs each year in the 2015-18 period.

This was 30,000 more than in the previous three-year period when the rate was 19%.

The number of children in relative poverty rose by 10,000 to 240,000, or 24% of all children. Two-thirds of impoverished children lived in homes with at least one working adult.

Relative poverty is defined as household income below 60% of the median. The threshold varies according to circumstances - for example, it is around £200 a week for a single person without children but around £460 a week for a couple with two children

Other figures also showed a rise in persistent poverty (three of the last four years in relative poverty), with 11% of Scots in the category in 2013-17, up from 10% in 2012-16. The number of pensioners in relative poverty also rose, from 17 to 18%, or 150,000 people.

The Scottish Government said the increases, which mostly began around the time of the Crash and UK austerity policies, were being driven by the Tories at Westminster. However, at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon also faced calls to mitigate the cuts.

The Scottish Government last year rejected opposition demands for a universal £5 a week top-up to child benefit, arguing most of the money would go to those who don’t need it.

Instead, ministers plan to introduce a targeted income supplement from 2022, a timescale Social Security Scotland, the devolved welfare agency, describes as “challenging”.

READ MORE: Child benefits top-up ‘could lift thousands out of poverty’

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said families who were already struggling could not afford to wait.

Ms Sturgeon admitted child poverty, and poverty generally, in Scotland was “too high”, but stressed it was lower than in England and Wales.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said the poverty figures were a “grave concern”, and agreed they were rooted in “the mean-spirited, punitive welfare policies” of the UK government.

She asked: “Is the First Minister really saying that low-income families in Scotland will have to wait until 2022 before the Scottish Government introduces a desperately needed income supplement?”

Ms Sturgeon said policy and delivery options would be published on the Government’s supplement in June.

She said: “There are two principles driving our work: reaching the greatest number of children in poverty, and topping up income sufficiently to lift those households out of poverty.

“I have a lot of sympathy for the organisations behind the Give Me Five campaign (for £5 on child benefit).

“However, £7 out of every £10 would be spent on families who are not living in poverty. We must make sure the money gets to those who are most in need.”

Labour MSP Elaine Smith urged Ms Sturgeon to bring forward the income supplement as the Resolution Foundation was already predicting child poverty at 29% by 2023.

She said: “We need to push for urgency because, to date, on the SNP’s watch and fuelled by Tory austerity, child poverty in Scotland continues to rise.

“Will the First Minister just continue to talk about it while families are struggling below the breadline? Jam tomorrow is no use when families do not even have bread today.”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “The assertion that this is somehow down to the SNP simply does not bear scrutiny. What marks out the SNP Government is our determination to take action to tackle child poverty. Scotland is the only part of the UK with statutory targets.”

By 2030, fewer than 10% of children should be in families in relative poverty.

READ MORE: New project to tackle child poverty in Scotland as 230,000 struggle to feed families

John Dickie, Director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said urgent action was required.

He said: “As time slips by, childhoods slip by, childhoods blighted by the simple fact their families just don’t have the money they need to give their children a decent start in life.

“These aren’t just statistics. These are children going hungry, missing out on school trips, unable to enjoy the activities and opportunities their better off peers take for granted.

“These are parents going without meals, juggling debt and seeing their own health suffer to protect their children from the poverty they face.”

SallyAnn Kelly, CEO of children’s charity Aberlour, said: “We have to help struggling families by putting more money in their pockets now, not waiting until 2022.

“An increase in child benefit of £5 per child per week would help to lift tens of thousands children out of poverty right now. Scotland’s children cannot wait.”

Jim McCormick, of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, added: “The Scottish Government has set ambitious targets, but as yet, there is little sign that the rising tide of child poverty is being turned. The proposed income supplement has the potential to provide security and must be implemented with urgency. We know the solutions. Now we need to act.”