Humza Yousaf has admitted it will be “difficult” and “challenging” to meet the legal target to cut Scottish child poverty, as he asked Westminster to help him hit it. 

The First Minister repeatedly refused to say if the Scottish Government was still capable of meeting the target without assistance from London.

Poverty campaigners have warned for some time that the SNP-Green government is set to miss its target.

They ramped up their criticism after the Scottish budget was passed yesterday and included cuts to anti-poverty measures such as affordable housing.

The 2017 Child Poverty Act passed by Holyrood set a target of reducing the percentage of children living in relative poverty from 24% to below 10% by 2030, or from around 230,000 children to fewer than 100,000.

The law also set an interim target of 18%, or around 180,000 children, in relative poverty by 2023/24.

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New modelling published by the Scottish Government today suggested the interim target had been met, but also indicated child poverty levels would stay around 18% until at least 2027.

The modelling estimated around 100,000 children are being kept out of relative poverty in Scotland because of the cumulative impact of Scottish Government policies, such as the Scottish Child Payment of £25 a week per child.

At a press conference in Drumbrae Library Hub in Edinburgh to highlight the analysis, Mr Yousaf was asked about the prospect of hitting the 2030 target.

He replied: “It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be challenging.

“That’s why I’m also calling on the UK Government to help, not just here in Scotland but right across the UK, lifting the two-child [benefit] limit, introducing an essentials guarantee, making some changes to how Universal Credit is awarded.

“These actions would cumulatively help to lift a further 40,000 children in Scotland out of poverty, so that would greatly help our way to those overall targets, let alone the interim targets. We’ll get the official statistics [on the interim target] in March of 2025.

“We continue to be ambitious in terms of not just our interim targets but the overall target,  but we would be greatly aided in that endeavour by the restoration to cuts to our budget, but also by the UK Government, who continue to hold many of the levers around child welfare and other levers to lift children out of poverty.” 

Asked if he accepted the targets were ones that Holyrood had set itself, he said: “Yes, we set those targets and as I say we are going to do everything we possibly can to achieve those overall targets. The fact that the interim target is within reach is a good sign.

“But while we are in this constitutional set-up, the UK Government could be doing more to reduce child poverty and poverty more generally right across the UK, including here in Scotland.

“It could do that actually at the drop of a hat. The Conservative government, I’m not expecting anything more from them, given we know their ideological position.

“But I do believe that we could see more action and more commitment from Keir Starmer and the Labour party.”

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Asked if, given the scale of the problem and limited time to hit the 2030 target, the Scottish Government was now reliant on help from London to meet it, Mr Yousaf did not deny it.

But appearing to prepare the ground for blaming Westminster for missing it, he suggested the UK Government might exacerbate child poverty and make the target harder to reach.

He said: “It’s difficult. In this constitutional arrangement, the UK Government could make changes to welfare, as they’re threatening to do.

“They’re threatening, for example, to make a further tax cut on March 6 at the expense of the welfare budget. 

“So therefore under this current constitutional set-up where I don’t have the full fiscal levers, economic levers, or the entire levers over social security, there’s no doubt at all that UK Government actions could have an impact on our targets in reducing absolute and relative poverty. I do not have a crystal ball [about] the UK Government.”

 John Dickie, the Director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said: "Humza Yousaf is absolutely right that the UK government must act to scrap poverty producing policies like the two-child limit and benefit cap.

"In stark contrast the action taken in recent years by the Scottish government, including the roll out of the Scottish child payment, is leading to hugely welcome reductions in child poverty.

"But the harsh reality is that the Holyrood government’s own analysis is clear that its existing policy package is insufficient to reach the legally binding target of less than one in ten children living in poverty by 2030.

"That’s why it was so disappointing that the Budget passed yesterday did nothing to build on current progress.

"With tens of thousands of Scotland children still locked in poverty there can be no room for complacency – we need a ratcheting up of action not the stalling we are currently seeing.

"There is far more the First Minister can be doing with devolved powers – starting with delivering the increase to a £30 Scottish child payment  he said he wanted to see during his leadership campaign.”