THE cost of funding the council tax freeze could instead have been used to increase the Scottish child payment to more than £30 a week, a think tank has said.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Scotland said increasing the welfare payment could lift another 10,000 children out of poverty.

In the Scottish Budget, £140 million was set aside to compensate councils for the decision to freeze council tax.

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According to IPPR Scotland’s analysis, this could have increased the Scottish child payment to £34.50 a week – rather than the planned £26.70.

It also pointed out that the council tax freeze disproportionately benefits higher-income households.

Humza Yousaf pledged to increase the child payment to £30 a week during his campaign for the SNP leadership earlier this year.

Dave Hawkey, senior research fellow at IPPR Scotland, said: “All indications are that Scotland’s interim child poverty target – set in legislation by the Scottish Government – will be missed next year, setting us off course from the final target and keeping children trapped in poverty.

“However, rather than making progress towards Scotland’s child poverty ambitions, this Budget risks stalling it.

“On top of the missed opportunity to target £140 million of spending at households who need it most, we see vital budget lines cut and commitments broken.

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“Further spending cuts at UK level will put further pressure on the Scottish budget, as will the needs of an ageing society and the transition to net zero.

“Instead of imperceptible changes like saving around £1 per week on people’s council tax bills, we need an open and honest debate about how we tackle the challenges our society faces.”

Child poverty campaigners criticised the increase announced in the Budget, pointing out that it equated to less then £2 per week and that 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.”

Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the recent budget had been the most challenging since devolution.

She said: “However, even in this most challenging financial situation we will continue to prioritise investment to tackle and reduce child poverty and do everything within the scope of our powers and budget in order to meet our statutory child poverty targets.

“The Scottish Budget commits £6.3 billion in social security benefits and payments in 2024-25, just over £1 billion more than last year.

“This includes increasing the Scottish child payment in line with inflation to £26.70 a week, giving more support to the 329,000 under 16s who are expected to receive it in 2024-25.

“This payment is not available anywhere else in the UK – and it’s available because we’re prioritising lifting children out of poverty, despite our constrained resources.”

She continued: “Due to Scottish Government policies an estimated 90,000 fewer children are expected to live in relative and absolute poverty this year, with poverty levels nine percentage points lower than they would have otherwise been.

“This includes lifting an estimated 50,000 children out of poverty through investment in the Scottish child payment.”