A CABINET Secretary has accused a Tory MSP of having a “brass neck” during a debate on child poverty and the Scottish Government’s efforts to mitigate harmful Westminster policies.

Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville told MSPs that the Scottish Government is “turning the tide” on child poverty, with 90,000 fewer children expected to live in relative or absolute poverty as a result of its policy choices.

The Scottish Government published an update on its plan to tackle child poverty on Tuesday, saying just over £3 billion had been spent on helping low-income households across a range of programmes last year.

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A total of £1.25 billion of this directly benefitted children.

The relative child poverty rate is estimated to fall to about 19% in 2023/24.

Compared with a scenario in which its policies were not in place, the Scottish Government said there is a gap of nine percentage points - the equivalent of keeping about 90,000 children out of relative poverty.

However, during a debate on the updated plan in Holyrood on Tuesday, Somerville clashed with Scottish Tory deputy leader Meghan Gallacher.

Gallacher claimed that there are now a record number of children in Scotland living in temporary accommodation, and said that number has risen by 120% since 2014.

“The SNP-Green record on this is shameful,” Gallacher said.

“The Scottish Government will always try to pat themselves on the back when it comes to tackling child poverty and inequality, however, Shelter have said, we cannot tolerate an action any longer, too many children are paying the price.

“So can I ask the Cabinet Secretary, what is her response to this comment?

“And why has our Government not done enough to support children trapped in temporary and emergency accommodation?”

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Somerville was quick to hit back at Gallacher’s comments and pointed out that the Scottish Government is frequently mitigating Tory Westminster policies.

“I have to say, I'm perhaps not surprised but still astonished at the sheer brass neck of a Scottish Conservative member of the Scottish Parliament coming here, and saying that we should be doing more when I'll give one example, one example, of how that is difficult.

“At the same time as we doubled the Scottish child payment to £20 pounds per week per eligible child, the UK government cut Universal Credit by the same amount.

“Imagine actually, if the people of Scotland actually for a change had two governments that are trying to tackle child poverty, than just one.”

The National:

After the exchange, Gallacher (pictured above) accused the Cabinet Secretary of using a UK-bad attack line because she didn't have the correct answer "on her script".

She tweeted: "I asked the Cab Sec for Social Security about children being placed in temporary and emergency accommodation. Not one reference to this in her answer. 

"Instead, embarked on a UK bad rant, throwing in some lines about affordable housing. Must not have been in her script."

The eligibility for the devolved Scottish Child Payment benefit was expanded in November last year and it was increased to £25 per child per week.

This benefit is estimated to contribute to a reduction in relative child poverty of five percentage points, lifting 50,000 children out of relative poverty.

However, those said to be in “persistent poverty” – which measures households that are stuck in poverty for several years – has shown a slow upward trend and is now at 18%.

As the figures were published, Somerville told MSPs: “Despite the challenge of our economic and budgetary circumstances, we have taken action to tackle child poverty head-on and progressed the actions set out in Best Start, Bright Futures.”

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She added: “The modelling published today reinforces that we are not just holding back the tide of poverty in Scotland, but we are turning the tide.

“With 90,000 fewer children expected to live in poverty this year as a result of the measures we are taking.”

Labour’s Paul O’Kane asked the minister about the upward trend in persistent poverty, saying it was “deeply concerning”.

Somerville said she recognised concerns about persistent poverty, saying she would ensure the Government does more to promote uptake of the Scottish Child Payment this year.