THE Scottish Government report on the impact of UK welfare reforms, highlighted by Patrick Harvie at First Minister’s Questions, makes for very sobering reading. It shows that a very large number of reforms are removing thousands of pounds from Scottish households, many of them containing our very poorest and most vulnerable people.

The areas affected include, but are not limited to: the freeze on the value of benefits; the two-child limit on child tax credits; the benefit cap; the scrapping of disability living allowance for most claimants; and the bedroom tax. The report projects that £3.9 billion will be removed from the pockets of Scots families in the 10 years from 2010. In some cases, multiple cuts impact the same people. The overall figure is bad enough, but it becomes even more bleak when we consider that the cuts almost entirely affect the incomes of some of our poorest households. Even worse, many of the households that will be impoverished are those with children – as many of the reforms, such as the restrictions on child tax credits and the benefit cap either wholly or mostly target families.

Additional research shortly to be released by the Scottish Greens shows that 90 per cent of households affected by the benefit cap have at least one child. As a result of welfare reforms, the poorest 10 per cent of families with children are projected to lose 15 per cent of their income over the period to 2020/21, compared to no change for the richest households.

No wonder the Institute for Fiscal Studies has updated its projections to show that absolute child poverty will increase from 27.1 per cent in 2015/16 to 31.6 per cent in 2020/21. That is a return to levels not seen since the early 2000s.

This is simply storing up problems for the future. We know that the long-term costs of responding to the damage child poverty causes vastly outweighs these short-term savings. Research by Loughborough University suggests the costs of child poverty to the UK economy are in the region of £29bn a year.

This is why the Greens have been seeking to strengthen the Child Poverty Bill currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. While the Scottish Government should be congratulated for its ambition in setting such stretching targets for child poverty reduction, the Bill could go further in making links with the new social security powers and the possibilities that exist to arrest the alarming increase.

Using the new benefit top-up power to increase child benefit should be something the Scottish Government considers regularly as a way of meeting the new child poverty targets. When sanctions, errors and delays have taken huge chunks out of family incomes, child benefit is often one of the few sources of income left. University of York research suggests that a £5 top-up would remove 30,000 children from relative child poverty at a stroke. But even this would only roll back some of the real-terms cuts made to child benefit through freezes on annual increases, which will reduce the value of the benefit by 28 per cent up to 2020.

While cuts like those to tax credits have claimed most of the publicity, it is the much less-heralded freezing of the value of benefits that accounts for the largest single share of the cuts. Of the £3.9bn to be removed from the Scottish economy by welfare reforms, £1.9bn – just under 50 per cent – will come from benefits falling in value over time, reducing the incomes of 750,000 families.

This underlines the need for the new Social Security Bill, lodged with the Parliament last week, to ensure that Scottish social security benefits are automatically updated to keep pace with inflation. Scottish benefits need to be protected from a future government raiding benefit budgets as a soft target for spending cuts, just as the current UK Government has.

This is one of several major changes Scottish Greens will be seeking to make to the Bill as it goes through Parliament.

Another major change we can make is to ensure everyone who approaches the Scottish system gets the help and advice they need to navigate what can be a bewildering and complex process. With access to good-quality income maximisation advice, people can get thousands of pounds in benefits that they are entitled to but have not claimed.

Across the UK, 48 per cent of low-income families do not claim everything they are due, and £15bn of benefits goes unclaimed every year. With 22 per cent of claimants losing entitlement entirely and 22 per cent getting a reduced award, the report’s coverage of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) recipients being re-assessed for the replacement Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is enough to have spurred multiple Green calls over the past year for the re-assessment process to be paused.

DLA and PIP account for around half of the total value of benefits being devolved, and getting this complex area of the new Scottish benefits system right and winning back the trust of the tens of thousands of disabled people treated so badly by UK Government reforms will be a major test.

Welfare reform is perhaps one of the biggest challenges for devolution since the convening of the Parliament in 1999. The purpose of devolution is to allow Scotland to make different choices that reflect the will of the Scottish people and which are best suited to the situation in Scotland. This week’s report shows that there is an urgent imperative to make different choices in terms of how we assist those Scots most in need of financial support.