By Kathleen Nutt

Political Correspondent

NICOLA Sturgeon is being urged to give an inflation-busting raise to a benefit given to the country's poorest families when she unveils her programme for government this week.

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, made the plea to the First Minister amid the spiralling cost of living and warning of a “significant humanitarian crisis” this winter.

Pressure has been mounting on Tory leadership contenders Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to set out measures to cut fuel bills and help households cope with rising costs.

The eight week Conservative Party contest ends tomorrow with frontrunner Ms Truss writing in The Sun last Thursday that she would "deliver immediate support to ensure people are not facing unaffordable fuel bills". But campaigners also want the Scottish Government to intervene to help households.

Under existing plans the Scottish Child Payment - which was introduced by the Scottish Government for households claiming Universal Credit and with children under six - is due to be increased from £20 to £25 a week per child this December (25 per cent). At the same time it will also be extended to families with children under 16.

Mr Dickie said that with forecasts that inflation could reach 20 per cent next year, it was vital that the benefit was increased further in line with inflation to avoid the rises being almost wiped out.

"Increasing the Scottish Child Payment from £20 per week per child to £25 per week per child is the right thing to have done. But the key thing is is this increase must not start to lose its value," he said.

"So we need to see it uprated at the very least with inflation come April so that support keeps its value in real terms for the families relying on it."

The Resolution Foundation warned on Thursday that the next Prime Minister's time in office looks set to be dominated by the "terrifying" prospect of the biggest squeeze in living standards for a century.

Inflation is already running at 10.1 per cent but the Bank of England has forecast that higher gas prices will push the Consumer Prices Index above 13 per cent by the end of the year.

Citigroup warned last week that inflation could hit 18.6 per cent in January, the highest in almost half a century, while some experts are even predicting it could surge past 20 per cent in the UK as the energy crisis mounts.

Research has suggested that one in four householders plan not to turn their heat on at all over winter as they are so concerned they will not be able to pay their bills.

Experts last week said that cold homes will damage children’s lungs and brain development and lead to deaths unless measures are brought in by the next Prime Minister to curb fuel bills.

Sir Michael Marmot, the director of University College London’s Institute of Health Equity, and Prof Ian Sinha, a respiratory consultant at Liverpool’s Alder Hey children’s hospital said on Thursday that damage done to young lungs may lead to a range of chronic diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis for others in adulthood.

The First Minister is due to unveil her programme for government to MSPs on Tuesday after Holyrood reconvenes after the summer recess.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Child Payment will be increased to £25 per eligible child per week when we extend it to under 16s by the end of the year – taken with its increase to £20 in April, this represents a 150% rise within 9 months. We are the only nation in the UK offering this vital benefit, as well as Bridging Payments worth £520 annually to support over 145,000 school age children.

“The Scottish Government is doing everything possible within our limited powers and fixed budget to help address the cost of living crisis – however, most of the key policy levers are held by the UK Government, which needs to take urgent action.”