GORDON Brown has called for an urgent cross-party push to address a child poverty “epidemic” that now threatens to trap half of young people in some Scottish communities.

The former Labour Prime Minister said Scotland was on the brink of becoming “two nations” as the numbers of children in relative poverty climbed to shameful levels.

Around a quarter of Scotland’s 1m children are already in poverty, and the numbers are rising in spite of SNP Government targets to get the level below 10 per cent by 2030.

Recent research suggested it will rise to around 30% by 2023.

In a speech to the annual conference of the council umbrella group Cosla, Mr Brown said child poverty would “explode out of control” without drastic action.

He said Brexit-driven inflation could see 40% of children in poverty across Scotland, rising to 50% and over in deprived communities.

He said there was “not a hope” of the Scottish Government hitting its target, despite planning a £10-a-week child benefit top-up by 2022.

He said that would only take 30,000 children out of poverty, while 50,000 were expected to enter it.

It was “simply too little, too late”.

He said the problem was worse than under the Tory governments of Mrs Thatcher and John Major, and was largely due to Tory welfare cuts.

But he also said the Scottish Government could be doing more.

He later told the Herald the SNP Government should direct extra money coming to it under the Barnett formula as a result of the recent UK spending statement to the problem.

He also said all the parties at Holyrood should agree to pay the extra money via existing UK benefit systems, rather than waste money on a separate Scottish bureaucracy.

He told Cosla: “Child poverty is demeaning, it is demoralising, it is damaging to the lives of children.

“Over these next 10 years, if we do nothing about it or do too little, then these poverty numbers will explode out of control.”

He warned there were “no visible means” of reaching the Scottish Government’s ambitious targets.

He went on: “This is a nationwide epidemic of poverty that if we do nothing about we are all to blame.

“It is not a question of one party or another, of one government or another, it’s a question of whether we do something that can make the lives of these children better in the years to come and relieve the pressure on all the local authority services that will have to step in if nothing is done.”

Appealing for cross-party action to urge the UK Government to increase money spent on child benefits, Mr Brown said: “When we were in government, for all the difficulties we faced, we took 170,000 Scottish children out of poverty. At present estimates, 170,000 children will be moving into poverty over the last few years and over the next few years.

“It is urgent we take more radical steps.”

Assessing the Scottish Government’s policies aimed at reducing child poverty, Mr Brown said that the Best Start Grant and Carers’ Allowance “will do almost nothing to cut the levels of child poverty”, while the £10 child payment “is simply too little, too late”.

On the child payment - an extra £10 per week per child that will be paid to families already on benefits, due to be fully rolled out by 2022 - Mr Brown added: “Child poverty will be up by another 50,000 by the time that measure comes in.

“We face a generation of children growing up in this country for whom we are doing far too little.”

He advocated scrapping the “totally unfair” two-child benefit cap, raising the child tax credit by £40 per week, doubling for children under six - a £950m packag he said would “take 100,000 children out of poverty immediately” and paid for by Barnett consequentials due to Scotland.

SNP Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said: “What we’re having to do as a government is mitigate, as best we can, the impact of what the UK Government is doing. That’s why the child payment is so important - it’s something the wider sector invited and asked us to do.”

At First Minister’s Questions, Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs said her government was “taking bold and radical action” to tackle poverty.