Child poverty has risen in every Scottish local authority over the past six years, according to new research.

Campaigners say the new data shows the "scale of the challenge" faced by UK, Scottish and local government if commitments to end child poverty in Scotland are to be met.

The research by Loughborough University, on behalf of the End Child Poverty coalition, shows that, even before the pandemic, levels of child poverty in Scotland ranged from nearly one in six children in the Shetland Islands and East Renfrewshire to nearly one in three in Glasgow - once housing costs are taken into account.

Glasgow (5.1%) saw the biggest percentage point rise in child poverty Renfrewshire had 3.8% increase.

The Herald:

The smallest increase was in East Renfrewshire (0.8%) and Aberdeenshire (1%) The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act, passed unanimously by the last parliament, requires the new Scottish government to ensure fewer than 18% of children are living in poverty by 2023/24, on course to less than 10% by 2030.

Official figures show that 26 per cent of children in Scotland were in poverty before Covid-19 struck in 2019-20, up from 23 per cent in 2018-19 and 24 per cent in 2017-18.

This is well above the levels set out in the Child Poverty Act 2017, which sets mandatory targets of reducing child poverty to 18 per cent by 2024 and 10 per cent by 2030.

Of children who were living in poverty, more than two-thirds, 68 per cent, were in families where at least one adult was working.

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Campaigners in Scotland say there can be no room for complacency if statutory child poverty targets agreed by all the Holyrood parties are to be met and have called for urgent action at "every level of government".

End Child Poverty campaigners are urging that local powers, including over economic development, housing and financial support, are all used to maximise family incomes and reduce the costs parents face. They say the impact of COVID-19 on women’s employment in particular is now pushing many women and their children into greater poverty.

Speaking on behalf of members of End Child Poverty John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said: “Solid foundations have been laid in Scotland for future progress on child poverty, not least the introduction of the Scottish child payment and an increasing focus on action at local level.

"But this new data is a stark reminder that child poverty was still rising in every part of Scotland, even before the pandemic struck. The challenge now is for government at all levels to use every power they have to boost family incomes and reduce the costs that struggling parents face.

“The new Scottish parliament must act on election promises and make tackling child poverty its top priority. The cross party commitment to at least doubling the Scottish child payment needs to be implemented as a matter of utmost urgency in order to help meet the 2023/24 targets. But child poverty also needs to be a priority at local level. Local powers, including over economic development, housing and welfare, must be used to maximum effect to ensure all families have a disposable income fit for giving children a decent start in life.”

The End Child Poverty coalition is also calling on the UK government to recognise the scale of the problem and its impact on children’s lives.

They say a credible UK government plan is needed to end child poverty across the UK, including a commitment to increase UK child benefits. Given the extent to which families are already struggling, the £20 per week cut to Universal Credit planned in October should also be revoked they say, with the support also extended to those still receiving financial assistance from the old benefit system, referred to as ‘legacy benefits’, before they are switched to Universal Credit.

Mr Dickie added: “The figures speak for themselves – the situation for children couldn’t be starker. We all want to live in a society where children are supported to be the best they can be, but the reality is very different for too many. The UK Government can be in no doubt about the challenge it faces if it is serious about ‘levelling up’ parts of the country hardest hit by poverty. After the year we’ve all had, they owe it to our children to come up with a plan to tackle child poverty that includes a boost to children’s benefits. And they need to scrap plans to cut Universal Credit given parents and children are having a tough enough time as it is.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While child poverty levels remain lower than in England and Wales, we are not complacent and are doing all we can to tackle and reduce child poverty in Scotland.

“We are providing support worth about £5,000 by the time a child turns six through the Best Start Grant, Best Start Foods and Scottish Child Payment. This payment, worth £40 every four weeks, is already reaching thousands of families on low incomes – we are working to deliver it to all eligible children under 16 by the end of 2022 and doubling the value of the payment by the end of this Parliamentary term. The 2021-22 Scottish Budget commits further investment to tackle child poverty, including £100 million to support struggling families through new Pandemic Support Payments and £49.75 million for expanded free school meal support.

“These statistics highlight that, even before the pandemic began, the challenge of negotiating the UK’s welfare system has left many people in desperate need of help. The UK Government must act now to match our action and commit to making permanent the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, and extend this to people on other benefits.”