SCOTTISH families have claimed more than £20 million in early years support payments in just one year, figures show.

The new Best Start Grant was introduced for expectant and new parents on low incomes in December 2018. Administered by Social Security Scotland, it replaced the Sure Start Maternity Grant from the Department for Work and Pensions.

It was extended to include children between six months and three years old along with another payment for children of school age. Another payment was introduced to replace Healthy Start Vouchers and cover food costs.

New Scottish Government figures show more than £21.3m was paid out by the end of last year.

Most of the applications – 45,590 – were for the pregnancy and baby payment, which launched before the rest of the benefits were available.

Launched in April, the early learning benefit drew more than 41,000 applications. Around 22,000 people applied for the school age payment and 34,725 sought help with food costs.

Most people waited just 10 days for their applications to be processed, although that increased in October, November and December, when most took at least 16 days. The Scottish Government said the introduction of the food payment means two decisions are now made “at the same time”, increasing admin times.

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Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville, above, said she was “delighted” at the “exceptional response” to the package, adding:

“The Best Start payments show what a difference we can make when we create social security benefits with fairness, dignity and respect at their heart.”

She added: “For a two-child family, the Best Start Grant package will provide total support of £1900 to £1400 more than they would get under the previous UK system. This shows the direct difference we are making to families across Scotland with our new powers over social security.”

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John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, commented: “It’s great to see hard pressed families across Scotland receiving the new Best Start Grants.

“They are providing much needed additional support at key points in children’s young lives. It is vital that everything possible is done to maximise take of the grants so that every eligible child benefits.”