MINISTERS will “consider very seriously” if the Scottish Child Payment can be increased but there will be no cap on the number of children in a family who can benefit from it, the Social Justice Secretary has said.

Shirley-Anne Somerville made clear that placing a limit on the number of children per family who can qualify for the payment, as the UK Government has done with some benefits, has “never even been considered”.

That would be “inherently an unjust way of delivering a benefit”, Somerville added, as she said any suggestion the Scottish Government should “use the benefit system to in some way punish people who have third, fourth, more children than that is deeply disappointing”.

She added: “We would never even consider that given the impact it has on families right across Scotland.”

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She also told Holyrood’s Social Justice and Social Security Committee that ministers will consider increasing the benefit ahead of December’s Scottish Budget.

However, Somerville stressed the “challenge is around the financial situation we find ourselves in”.

Figures last month showed 316,190 under-16s were in receipt of the £25-a-week devolved benefit payment as of June 30.

Organisations such as the Child Poverty Action Group have been pushing for the payment to be increased as part of efforts to tackle child poverty.

It has estimated ministers need to up the payment to £40 a week if they are is to meet their target of reducing the number of children in relative poverty to 18% by March.

Currently about 250,000 youngsters in Scotland – 24% of all children – are living in poverty, with the Government having committed to cut this to less than 10% by 2030.

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Asked by SNP backbencher Marie McNair if the payment would be increased, Somerville said she “did appreciate” the demands, but added: “The challenge is around the financial situation we find ourselves in.

“As the First Minister has made clear, we will look to see what we can do on the Scottish Child Payment – and indeed on any other anti-poverty measure – to see what more can be done.

“But it will always have to be done of course within the financial context we are in.

“We will consider it very seriously in the run-up to the next Budget, along with the other asks – and there are many – that people would wish us to take forward.

“But it will have to be done within the financial reality within which we are in.”