SNP child welfare policies could reduce the burden on hard-up families by a third if they are fully implemented, according to a report.

Researchers analysed the impact of policies including child payments, free school meals, clothing grants and free bus travel on the cost of bringing up a child.

The report builds on calculations which show the minimum cost of bringing up a child in the UK, excluding childcare costs, is around £76,000 in a couple family and £103,000 in a lone parent family. 

Assuming that the Scottish child payment is doubled to £20 a week and fully rolled out and all primary school children are receiving free school meals, it found that the combined value of Scottish government policies reduces the net cost of bringing up a child by up to 31% (nearly £24,000) for lower income families.

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said Scotland was the only part of the UK to have five family benefits.

Universal free school meals throughout primary make the cost of bringing up a child £1,700 cheaper, whilst free bus travel saves £3,000 in the lifetime cost of a child in Scotland compared to England.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said in November 2020 the SNP would make free school meals available to pupils by August 2022 if his party retained power at May's election.

However, funding has only been made available to extend it to pupils in P4 and P5. Pupils in P6 and P7 will have to wait until "later in the parliamentary term".

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The Scottish child payment will bring in a total of £16,700 over 16 years to help cover the cost of a child for families in receipt of universal credit.

Out of work family incomes still fall a third short of what’s needed to meet actual costs of bringing up a child, but researchers said the gap was "significantly smaller" than elsewhere in UK.

HeraldScotland:

A family with two children in Scotland on out-of-work benefits falls 30% short of meeting their needs, compared to over 40% in the rest of the UK.

The shortfall will be greater for families hit by the UK government benefit cap.

The report was commissioned by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland from the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University.

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The charity called for the policies to be fully implemented as soon as possible and a doubling of bridging payments for children entitled to free school meals to help bridge the gap to the roll out of the Scottish child payment in April.

It said the UK government must also increase universal credit and family benefits by at least 7% to match inflation.​

John Dickie Director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said: This new analysis shows just how big a difference long campaigned for policies like the doubling of the Scottish child payment and roll out of universal free school meals will make.

"But it’s absolutely vital Holyrood Ministers press ahead to ensure they are all delivered this year and that all families are able to take up the extra support they are eligible for. 

HeraldScotland:

"Scotland really is making progress tackling child poverty, but as the cost of living soars families need extra help now if they are to stay afloat this year.

"That means every level of government must step up to the plate.

"The Chancellor needs to ensure UK financial support for families increases with inflation – an April increase of at least 7% to match the Bank of England’s forecast of inflation, not the 3.1% planned – and he needs to scrap the benefit cap so the increase reaches every family that needs it.”

Donald Hirsch, Professor of Social Policy and Director, Centre for Research in Social Policy, Loughborough University and the author of the report, said: "

“The rising cost of raising a child and the failure in recent years to match this with improvements in help from the state has left many families in the UK struggling to make ends meet.

"This report shows however that in Scotland, families are significantly better off in this regard, as a result of Scottish Government policies seeking to address the problem, and also childcare costs that have not risen as fast as in England.

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"Benefit levels still remain well below what families need but it is encouraging to see policies at the Scottish level that make a substantial difference for families.”

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said: “The Scottish Child Payment, designed to tackle child poverty head on, will be doubled to £20 per week from April – four times more than campaigners originally asked for. Combined with our three Best Start Grants and Best Start Foods, low income families will receive £8,400 of financial support by the time their first child turns six.

“We’re also providing immediate support to over 144,000 school-age children through Bridging Payments worth £520 this year and last, ahead of the extension of the Scottish Child Payment to under 16s by the end of the year.

“Our ambitious measures are already delivering considerable support to families compared with other parts of the UK - for example, through at least 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare, employment support, maximising incomes, affordable housing, and social security.

"We remain the only part of the UK to have five family benefits.

“We must go further and later this month we will publish our next Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan which will outline the next steps we will take alongside our delivery partners to break the cycle of child poverty.”

A UK Government spokesman said: “We recognise the pressures people are facing with the cost of living, which is why we’re providing support worth around £20 billion this financial year and next to help.

"This includes putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families via changes to Universal Credit, freezing fuel duties to keep costs down and helping households with their energy bills through our £9.1 billion Energy Bills Rebate.

"We have also boosted the minimum wage by more than £1,000 a year for full-time workers and our £500 million Household Support Fund is helping the most vulnerable with essential costs.

“Meanwhile, the benefit cap, up to the equivalent salary of £24,000, ensures fairness for hard-working taxpaying households and a strong work incentive, while also providing a much-needed safety net of support.”