SCOTTISH ministers are unlikely to meet their own targets to tackle child poverty with the cost of living crisis making the ambition harder, independent experts have said.

The warning comes in the latest report by the Poverty and Inequality Commission (PIC) published after a ministerial update this afternoon on the SNP/Green Government's plans to tackle the problem which it has made a key priority.

It said that while some progress was made by ministers during the past year in delivering on major commitments such as the Scottish Child Payment and funded early learning and childcare, the actions taken were "very unlikely" to be enough to meet its 2030 targets.

The Scottish Government has committed to reducing the proportion of children living in relative poverty – defined as those from households earning less than 60 per cent of the median income – from the current level of 24 per cent to 18 per cent by 2023-24. A further target aims to cut the level of poverty to just 10 per cent by 2030-31.

The PIC report is a statutory requirement under the 2017 Child Poverty (Scotland) Act and sets out the progress made towards meeting legally binding child poverty targets.

The Scottish Child Payment, a new benefit introduced north of the Border, was doubled from £10 per week to £20 per week in April, and is payable to families on low incomes. The payment is paid to parents for each child they care for under the age of six years. It will be extended at the end of the year to all eligible children under the age of 16 - and at that point will also increase from £20 to £25 per week.

The PIC said increasing the Scottish Child Payment to £25 per week is likely to have the biggest impact on child poverty. However, it added that - as inflation approaches ten per cent - the cost-of-living crisis will make it much harder to meet the absolute poverty interim targets, and that further action is needed.

"While the progress made during 2021-2022 was very unlikely to be sufficient to meet the child poverty targets, commitments made during the year and in the 2022-2026 Delivery Plan now make it more likely that the Scottish Government will meet the 2023-2024 interim relative child poverty target," said the report.

"Increasing the Scottish Child Payment to £25 per week is likely to have the biggest impact.

"The Scottish Government is less likely to meet the absolute poverty interim target and it is unclear whether it will meet the other interim targets.

"There is also a strong risk that the rapidly rising cost of living will make it much harder to meet the absolute poverty and low income and material deprivation interim targets, and that families will not see an improvement in their quality of life."

It listed eight recommendations for ministers which included publishing robust monitoring data and evidence about what they are currently doing to tackle the issue, take further urgent action to mitigate the cost of living crisis, target help to the families who most in need and press the UK Government for "urgent, progressive revenue-raising measures" to fund "greatly enhanced" welfare benefits.

The Scottish Government said it has committed almost £8.5 billion to support low income households between 2018 and 22, with almost £3.3 billion benefitting children.

It said that the fourth annual progress by PIC showed that all of the actions committed as part of the first Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, Every Child, Every Chance, have been delivered.

And listed what it said were its key achievements:

•    introduction of the Scottish Child Payment, with more than 1.2 million payments between February 2021 and March 2022 – a £58.6 million investment
•    increase in the number of real Living Wage accredited employers, with the proportion of people earning the real Living Wage or more rising from 80.6% in 2018 to 85.6% in 2021
•    increase in the funded hours for Early Learning and Childcare from 600 hours in 2018 to 1,140 hours in August 2021, saving families up to £4,900 per eligible child in 2021
•    delivery of 35,095 affordable homes, 25,562 of which were for social rent – supporting an estimated 11,585 households with children into affordable housing between 2018-22
•    extension of concessionary travel to all under 22s, with approximately 930,000 young people eligible for support – saving families up to £3,000 by the time their child turns 18
•    expansion of universal free school meals to children in primaries 4 and 5, saving families around £400 per child and increasing School Clothing Grant to at least £120 for eligible primary school children and £150 for those in secondary school in 2021

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said: "Over the last four years, we have strengthened the foundations of support for children and families and used our powers to support those most in need, particularly with the introduction of our new social security system.

“We are now supporting low income households, carers and helping disabled people lead independent lives through 12 benefits, seven of which are entirely new and not available anywhere else in the UK.

“We have made progress despite significant challenges. The pandemic and the continued impact of UK Government welfare reforms has disproportionately impacted the most disadvantaged and been severe. And, of course, households are all now facing the current cost of living crisis.

“That is why we remain determined to continue with our national mission to tackle child poverty.  

"Our second Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan for 2022-26, Best Start, Bright Futures, is ambitious and has a range of actions to support families both immediately and in the long term to deliver change.

“We will also continue to call on the UK Government to reverse their welfare reforms, including the two-child limit. Analysis shows that reversing them would put an estimated £780 million in the pockets of Scottish households in 2023-24 and help to lift 70,000 people out of poverty, including 30,000 children.”

John Dickie, Director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said: “This report shows that strong foundations have been laid and substantive action taken to tackle child poverty in Scotland.

"The new Scottish Child Payment already being paid for children under six, enhanced best start grants and increases to the school clothing grant are among the actions making a real difference to families across Scotland.

"But as the cost of living crisis bites families are facing greater pressures than ever. The roll out of the Scottish Child Payment to over fives really can’t come soon enough.

"In the meantime we would urge the Scottish government to double the remaining bridging payments being made for school aged children on the lowest incomes so that they match the value of the extra support being provided through the Scottish child payment. This would be a straightforward way of getting extra cash support to more families as food and fuel prices soar.”

Mr Dickie continued: “Looking ahead more will clearly be needed to ensure the families rightly identified in the report as priority groups get the additional support they need to protect their children from poverty. Action to mitigate the UK government’s arbitrary two child limit on benefits would, for example, be one way to support larger families.”