We believe it is shameful in this day and age in Scotland so many of our children grow up in poverty and we are committed to delivering a fairer future for all. In government the SNP is taking action.
We have passed a Child Poverty Bill to introduce income based child poverty targets. This will make Scotland the only UK nation to have child poverty targets set out in law, after the Tory government scrapped targets for the whole of the UK. This is backed up by a £50 million fund to tackle child poverty. The new fund will be distributed based on advice from the Poverty and Inequality Commission, established to advise Ministers on how best to tackle poverty and inequality.
We are using new Scottish social security powers to support young families on low incomes at the key stages of their children’s lives with a new Best Start Grant. In addition, we will introduce the Scottish Child Payment by 2022 for all eligible families with children under 16. The Payment will begin for children under six by early 2021, with the payment set at £10 per week. This new benefit will provide support for families on low incomes, reduce child poverty and mitigate some of the damaging impact of UK Government austerity and welfare cuts.
We have already expanded free childcare and early learning by 45 per cent and provided free school meals for all children in primary classes 1 to 3. By 2021, we will almost double the number of hours of free early years education and childcare to 30 hours a week for vulnerable two year olds and all three and four year olds. And we will expand free school meals to all children entitled to free early years education.
To tackle the education attainment gap we will, over the next five years, expand our Attainment Fund and invest an additional £750 million in tackling this, with more money allocated direct to headteachers.
We will continue to invest over £125 million to mitigate the worst impact of Tory Government welfare cuts and support those on low incomes. In addition, over 316,000 households in crisis have been helped to buy essentials such as nappies, food and cookers through our Scottish Welfare Fund since it was established in 2013.
We have tackled the rising cost of living by keeping Council Tax bills down, and have increased the child allowance within the Council Tax reduction scheme by 25 per cent, helping nearly 140,000 children across Scotland.
You can read more about how we are giving children the best start in life here.
At Westminster, we will always hold the government to UK account on the impact of their policies on child poverty. We continue to call on the UK government to match that ambition by reintroducing UK-wide targets to end child poverty, and urge the UK government to follow the lead of the SNP Scottish Government, by working with devolved administrations to establish a Poverty and Inequality Commission that provides expert advice on tackling poverty, and monitors and regularly reports on progress.