THE Scottish Government must introduce an income supplement for poorer households right away in a bid to tackle child poverty, according to the body advising ministers on poverty and inequality.

Under plans published last year, ministers committed to start giving low-income families a new payment in 2022.

But in a report scrutinising this year’s Budget, the Poverty and Inequality Commission said many families needed the money immediately and pressed the government to bring the policy forward.

The report said: “The Commission understands that it takes time to put such a measure in place, however, as stated in its scrutiny of the progress ... it feels strongly that many families need additional money in their pockets now.

“The Scottish Government urgently needs to consider how at can progress this quicker or, if this is not feasible, what interim measures could help.

“The Commission looks forward to hearing an update on the work to introduce an income supplement in the Government’s progress report in June.”

The report also said more money should be directed towards social security, work and earnings, and reducing housing costs as they have “the biggest impact on poverty”.

A household is considered to be in poverty if its income if less than 60% of the average income for that household type. Currently, 26% of children in Scotland are living in poverty and the Scottish Government has set a target to reduce that to below 18% by 2023/24.

The report 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 welcomed the Scottish Government’s income tax policy which it said “is more progressive” than that in the rest of the UK, with those on higher incomes paying more.

But it also raised concerns that protecting budgets on healtheducation and policing meant other areas are squeezed, It suggested that with public money tight, the government should consider raising more revenue through taxes.

John Dickie, of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government’s commitment to a new income supplement is a potential game-changer, but, as the Commission makes clear, 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. Three Budgets have now passed since the Scottish Parliament got the social security powers it needs to directly boost family incomes, yet in that time tens of thousands more children have been pushed into poverty as a result of UK tax and benefit policies.

“Families locked in poverty can’t wait until 2022 for Holyrood ministers to back their commitments with the investment needed to free children from the damage poverty wreaks.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson 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 £210m of resource and £175m of capital to support our expansion of funded Early Learning and Childcare to 1140 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.”