THE Scottish Government has confirmed it will be wiping out school meals debt.

Speaking in Holyrood during the Scottish Budget statement, Deputy First Minister and Finance Minister Shona Robison confirmed school meals debt would be erased, funded by the Scottish Government.

READ MORE: Scottish Budget - The key points from Shona Robison's financial statement

Robison added that the Scottish Government would be investing £43m in expanding the free school meals scheme.

During the statement, it was also announced that the Scottish Child Payment (SCP) will increase in April 2024.

Robison confirmed the new rate of SCP would increase from £25 a week to £26.70.

Child poverty campaigners criticised the increase, pointing out that it equated to less then £2 per week, saying it would provide “little comfort” to struggling families.The £1.70 increase was described as a “missed opportunity” to tackle child poverty by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children Scotland, while the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said it was “bitterly disappointing.”

First Minister Humza Yousaf had pledged to increase the payment to £30 a week during his leadership campaign, although Save the Children Scotland said it needed to rise to £40 to help 240,000 children in poverty.

The budget was criticised for giving wealthy families a council tax freeze while failing to deliver the additional £5 per week which was central to Yousaf’s leadership bid.

Fiona King, senior policy and public affairs manager at Save the Children Scotland, said: “Today’s Scottish budget raises some serious questions about how we as a country are going to meet the 2030 child poverty reduction targets.

"We welcome some of the commitments and steps taken, but this does not amount to the bold action required to really “shift the dial” on poverty, and time is running out.

“We welcome the announcement that the Scottish Government will take steps to remove the burden of school meal debt, and the continued funding of the Scottish child payment – uprated in line with inflation – is vital in the fight to drive down child poverty.

READ MORE: Council tax freeze 'will result in cuts to vital services' amid £160m cash shortfall

“Analysis shows that the payment needs to be £40 per week to ensure child poverty falls in line with the Government’s own targets. Today, 240,000 children in Scotland remain locked in poverty with families struggling to put food on the table, pay the bills and invest in their children’s futures.

“Children cannot and must not be the collateral damage of a challenging fiscal environment. Underinvestment in tackling the root causes of low-income will harm children and families and will cost our whole society more in the long run.

“This parliament made a cross-party, legally-binding commitment to drive down child poverty – this budget was a missed opportunity to honour that commitment.”

Director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, John Dickie, said: “The First Minister said during his leadership campaign that he wanted to see the Scottish child payment rise to £30 per week in his first budget.

“It is bitterly disappointing for struggling families that he has failed to deliver.

“Having chosen to fund a council tax freeze that financially benefits better-off households it is hard to understand why his Government couldn’t choose to boost the incomes of our hardest-up families.

“The reality is tens of thousands of our children remain locked in poverty and the Government’s own analysis shows that current policies are not adequate to meet legally binding child poverty targets.

“We needed to see this budget “shifting the dial” on child poverty as the First Minister promised.

“But it is hard to see the significant extra investment in childcare, housing, employment and social security that is so desperately needed. This budget looks like a hugely concerning stalling in the good progress made on child poverty by the Scottish Government in recent years.”