The Scottish Government needs to invest “considerably more” on tackling child poverty if it is to meet legally binding targets it has set, according to its own advisers.
The Poverty and Inequality Commission said it was “impossible” to calculate how much cash from the latest Scottish budget will be spent combating poverty and inequality.
It highlighted the need for “more funding directly targeted at tackling poverty and inequality”, with the commission calling on ministers to consider if raising taxes could be one source of cash.
It said the Scottish Government’s planned income supplement for poorer families should be brought in sooner than the scheduled date of 2022.
The commission said it “strongly feels that many families need additional money in their pockets now”.
It told ministers: “The Scottish Government urgently needs to consider how they can progress this quicker or, if this is not feasible, what interim measures could help.”
The commission, which was set up by the Scottish Government, said “if tackling poverty is a priority of the Government then this needs to be matched in the spending plans”.
It said: “If the Scottish Government is to have any chance of tackling poverty effectively and meeting its statutory targets on child poverty, it will need to take sustained action and invest considerably more than current levels.
“Future levels of funding must meet the scale of the challenge.”
The commission made the comments in its report on the Government’s 2019-20 budget – which was passed with support from the Scottish Greens.
Holyrood previously passed legislation that sets out to cut relative child poverty to less than 10% by 2030-31, while reducing absolute child poverty to below 5%.
Figures showed almost a quarter (23%) of children were living in relative poverty in 2016-17 – with this forecast to increase to 27% by 2023-24.
Using welfare payments to meet the child poverty targets would cost the Government £2.6 billion a year, previous research by think-tank IPPR Scotland has calculated.
But the commission said of the £42.5 billion allocated in the current budget only around £172 million – 0.4% of the funds – was directly targeted at low-income households.
A further £1.9 billion “is not directly targeted but likely to help efforts to tackle poverty to some extent”, it added.
The report said: “These are rough calculations. Nevertheless, it does appear that the current level of spending directed at tackling poverty is falling well short of what is needed.”
While the commission accepted the “Government has difficult decisions to make around funding priorities” it said it should “consider the opportunities it has to raise revenue through taxes”.
Campaigners welcomed the call for a low-income supplement to be introduced more quickly.
Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland said: “While welcome progress is being made to put dignity at the heart of Scotland’s new social security system, it is clear that plans for a new income supplement in 2022 is simply too far away for families who need cash in their pockets today.
“Warm words will not make a difference to people who cannot put food on the table.”
John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said the new payment could be a “potential game-changer” for struggling families.
But he added: “It needs to be backed by a level of investment that provides meaningful support to families and a substantive impact on overall child poverty numbers.
“The current 2022 timetable for the supplement lacks urgency.
“Families locked in poverty now can’t wait until 2022 for Holyrood ministers to back their commitments with the investment needed to free children from the damage that poverty wreaks.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The 2019-20 Scottish Budget continues our strong investment in building a fairer and more prosperous Scotland, despite our resource budget being reduced by almost £2 billion in real terms since 2010-11 due to UK Government cuts.
“We are investing in truly transformational policies such as our commitment to deliver 50,000 affordable homes in this parliamentary term, backed by record investment of £825 million; an extra £210 million of resource and £175 million of capital to support our expansion of funded early learning and childcare to 1,140 hours by August 2020; and £435 in direct assistance through social security measures – all measures to help support those on low incomes and put money directly in the pockets of families in need.
“We are clear that in order to reach our ambitious child poverty targets we will require to make substantial new investment, and we have committed to introducing a new Income Supplement which will put money directly in the pockets of families in need.”