SUPPORT offered in Scotland is making a major contribution to helping with the costs of bringing up children – but families are still going “backwards” due to the cost of living crisis and Tory policies, a new report has found.

The analysis by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) Scotland said the financial boost from policies ranging from the Scottish Child Payment to free bus travel can help reduce the cost of bringing up a child by a third for low-income families.

But in 2022, rising living costs and the effects of UK Government policies – such as the two-child benefit limit and limited help for soaring fuel bills – has meant a widening gap between the costs of bringing up a child and actual family incomes.

CPAG Scotland has called for Finance Secretary John Swinney to “double down” on support for children in this week’s Scottish Budget.

READ MORE: Record narrowing of attainment gap in Scottish schools, report shows

But it also warns many of the factors causing families to risk deep poverty – such as the fall in real wages, the impact of real-terms benefits cuts, the benefit cap and limited help with rocketing fuel bills - are well beyond the Scottish Government’s control.

John Dickie, director of the CPAG Scotland, said: “This important analysis confirms that Scottish Government policies are making a big difference to families.

“But the harsh reality is that soaring inflation and real terms UK benefit cuts means the gap between incomes and the minimum cost of raising a child is widening horribly.

“It is absolutely vital that the Finance Secretary uses this week’s Scottish Budget to double down on support for children. At the very least he needs to ensure the Scottish child payment and other Scottish benefits hold their real terms value next year.

“Given the pressure on his budget he must also use his tax powers to increase the resources available to him to deliver the social security, childcare and employment actions that are needed to meet his government’s child poverty targets.”

The National:

The report, compiled by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, highlighted figures that show bringing up a child at a “minimum acceptable standard of living” in the UK adds an estimated £160,000 over 18 years to the budget for a couple.

For a single parent raising a child on their own, that cost increases to more than £200,000.

In the UK outside of Scotland, Universal Credit (UC) combined with child payment is now providing out-of-work families with less of half of what they need, the report warned.

In Scotland, a number of measures have helped with the impact of rising costs, such as extending free school meals to primary four and five pupils in January 2022.

Once plans to fully implement this throughout the primary school, the effect of the policy will make the cost of bringing up a child £1800 cheaper in Scotland than in England, the research said.

The introduction of free bus travel for all Scots under 22 will also make a “significant difference” to costs – saving families an estimated £3000 per child compared to south of the Border.

The Scottish Child Payment, which was extended in November to all children under 16 in eligible families and increased to £25 a week, will also contribute nearly £21,000 over 16 years.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon urges families to check child payment eligibility

The report said: “Scottish policies are making a major contribution to helping families cover the cost of bringing up children – adding up to over a third of the additional cost of a child over 18 years.

“Unfortunately, this must be set against the rapidly deteriorating level of family incomes relative to costs.

“For out-of-work families in the rest of the UK, incomes are down below half of what they need to be as a minimum for a decent life. In Scotland they fall around 40 per cent below this level – which is ‘only’ as bad as things were in the rest of the UK a year ago.

“Thus, Scottish policies are immensely important in reducing the level of financial strain and hardship on families at a particularly difficult time, but they are fighting a rear-guard action.”

READ MORE: Think tank urges UK Government to follow Scottish Government’s example

The report called for action to ensure families received help they are entitled to and access to extra hardship support when needed, saying the management and develop of the Scottish Welfare Fund would be vital, for example.

But it added: “Many of the factors causing families to risk deep poverty in the coming months and years are well beyond the Scottish government’s control.

“These include the fall in real wages, the effects of real-terms benefit cuts including the loss of the £1000 increase to UC in 2021, the bite of the two-child limit and benefit cap and the limited help families are getting to help with rocketing fuel bills, due to cost of living payments being flat rate rather than proportional to the size of families.

“Against all these headwinds, Scottish families are going backwards despite additional help from the Scottish Government.

“Those with the lowest incomes remain a very long way from being able to bring up their children at a decent level and free from the fear of hardship.”