Scotland’s faith leaders have called on the UK and Scottish Governments to make changes to the social security system to stem the rising tide of poverty.

The call supported by representatives from Scotland’s major faith groups urged both Westminster and Holyrood to take action “that would reflect the care, compassion and support shown by people across the country into changes that would make a real difference to families and individuals living in the grip of poverty.”

They call for specific reforms to the social security system to “boost the incomes of those most in need”.

It comes a matter of days after a new report said that the Scottish government needs to display "bolder ambition" if it is to meet targets for tackling child poverty.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said about a million people in Scotland were in poverty "living precarious and insecure lives" even before Covid hit.

READ MORE: Some of Scotland's poorest households face income crisis due to Universal Credit cut

In many cases the pandemic will "have swept them deeper into poverty, as well as dragging others under", it added.

The government says it is committed to tackling and reducing child poverty.

Signatories to the new call include the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Chief Imam of Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Galloway and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

HeraldScotland: Scotland boasts lowest levels of poverty in the UK

The religious leaders at the end of Challenge Poverty Week urge the UK Government to end the Universal Credit benefit cap which limits how much households can receive in total benefits.

They also say there should be an end to the two-child limit for benefits which has hit almost a million children across the UK. Some 243,270 households had their benefits cut by the cruel policy in the three years since it launched in 2017.

Launched by ex-Chancellor George Osborne, the limit bars parents from claiming Child Tax Credits or Universal Credit for "third or subsequent" children born after 6 April 2017.

It also called for the retention of the £20 'lifeline' temporary increase in the Universal Credit basic allowance which benefits nearly half a million Scots.

Last month 50 children’s charities, food bank providers, housing organisations, benefit and debt advisors, disability groups, and others wrote to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, urging him not to withdraw this essential £20 lifeline.

Modelling by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that scrapping the temporary increase would drive 700,000 more people into poverty across the UK, while a further 500,000 of those already living in poverty would be living below 50 per cent of the poverty line.

The statement supported by the Sensei at the Cloud Water Zen Centre Buddhist community, the chairman of the Methodist Church in Scotland, the moderator-elect of the National Synod of Scotland of the United Reformed Church and the representative of Sikhs in Scotland on the Scottish Religious Leaders Forum calls on the Scottish Government to “play its role” by increasing the Carers Allowance Supplement.

It goes on: "This would recognise that carers are often locked into poverty, and in response to the additional financial pressures placed on them by the pandemic.

“By boosting the incomes of people struggling to stay afloat, our governments can relieve the pressure and stress that so many are now experiencing. We encourage those in power to listen to people who are affected by poverty now and take the steps we need to begin to redesign our social security to provide the support that everyone one needs.”

Responding to the statement, Peter Kelly, director of Poverty Alliance said: “The pandemic has shown us how much we want to look after each other. But it’s also highlighted the gaps in our system of social protection.

“This intervention from Scotland’s faith leaders is a welcome contribution to the mounting calls on both the UK and Scottish governments to fix our social security system so it acts as a lifeline to help people stay afloat.

“Even before the Covid-19 crisis, one in five people in Scotland were living in poverty. Without urgent action, this can only be expected to get worse.”

The Scottish Government has said that support is available to eligible families including Best Start Grants, Best Start Foods and the new Scottish Child Payments. And grants meant that some families could receive more than £5,200 of support by the time their first child turned six.

The Scottish government has set the interim target of having no more than 18% of children living in relative poverty by the end of 2023-24, down from the current total which sees almost a quarter (24%) of youngsters affected.

But in its Poverty In Scotland 2020 report, the JRF said that "poverty has been rising and we are not on course to meet interim child poverty targets within three years".

It said the issue could only be tackled with bold action on job training, affordable housing and income support.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has significant welfare powers, including the ability to top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits.

“Universal Credit is providing a vital safety net to those affected by the pandemic and we have injected more than £9.3 billion into the welfare system to help those in most need.

“This is in addition to the significant steps already taken to support the lowest paid families, including raising the living wage, ending the benefit freeze and increasing work incentives, and there are 100,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty than in 2009/10

Full letter

The response to the coronavirus pandemic highlighted much of what is best in our society. At its outset, we saw an outpouring of compassion and care for one another. Communities, neighbours, and families worked together to try and ensure that those most in need have not been left behind. All levels of government recognised the economic and social effects the pandemic would have, and quickly put in place measures to cushion some of its worst impacts.

During Challenge Poverty Week we are reminded that there is still much to do to help all those who are living with the constant pressure of poverty, and that despite the care and support that has been shown over the last six months we know that further action is needed to loosen the grip of poverty on people’s lives.

We are calling on both the UK Government and Scottish Government to take action that would reflect the care, compassion and support shown by people across the country into changes that would make a real difference to families and individuals living in the grip of poverty.

By ending the Benefit Cap and the two child limit the UK Government will boost the incomes of families most in need. They should also retain the increase in the Universal Credit basic allowance, maintaining the financial support that will still be needed for many as our economy recovers.

The Scottish Government can play its role by increasing the Carers Allowance Supplement. This would recognise that carers are often locked into poverty, and in response to the additional financial pressures placed on them by the pandemic.

By boosting the incomes of people struggling to stay afloat, our Governments can relieve the pressure and stress that so many are now experiencing. We encourage those in power to listen to people who are affected by poverty now and take the steps we need to begin to redesign our social security to provide the support that everyone one needs.

Signed by: The Right Rev Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Imam Razawi, Chief Imam and Director General, Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society The Right Rev William Nolan, Bishop of Galloway Sensei Karl Kaliski, Cloud Water Zen Centre (Buddhist community) The Most Revd Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church Ravinder Kaur Nijjar, Sikhs in Scotland, Member of Scottish Religious Leaders Forum The Revd Mark Slaney, Chair Scotland District & Shetland District, Methodist Church in Scotland Revd Paul Whittle, Moderator-Elect of the National Synod of Scotland of the United Reformed Church