SNP to double Scottish child benefit top-up if re-elected

The SNP would double Scotland‘s child benefit top-up payments if it is re-elected, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The Scottish first minister said ending child poverty would be a “driving mission” for her party in the next parliament.

The benefit is currently worth £10 a week to lower-income families with children up to the age of six – and it is set to be scaled up to children under 16 by the end of next year.

But Ms Sturgeon said in a speech on Monday that the payment would also be doubled from £10 to £20, benefiting more than 400,000 children in 250,000 households.

She said voters should consider the policy a “downpayment” on what the government of an independent Scotland could do when it had full control of text and spending.

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“I want to make ending child poverty a driving mission for the next parliament,” she said.

“So, I can confirm that if we are re-elected on May 6, we will – over the course of the next term – increase the Scottish Child Payment from £10 per week for each eligible child to £20 per week.

“It’s time to end the scandal of child poverty and this will help do it. It is a down payment on what will be possible when we have the full powers over tax and social security that only independence can deliver.”

Polls current suggest the Scottish National Party is on course to be by far the largest party in the Scottish Parliament after May’s elections.

But it faced a new challenge last week from the pro-independence Alba Party, led by former first minister Alex Salmond.

The first minister used the speech to launch a thinly-veiled attack on her former colleague, criticising politicians who “treat politics like a game” and put “self-interest” above the country’s interests.

And she criticised Boris Johnson for going on a “nuclear weapons spending spree” for his plans to increase the ceiling on the number of nuclear warheads the UK has.

“Never has the ‘bairns not bombs’ argument been made so stark. The priorities of this Tory government are all wrong,” she said.

“The message is this: if you want to put children’s rights before nuclear weapons – vote SNP.”

She also pointed to historic comments about Scotland by Mr Johnson, stating: “In the past, he has accused us of ‘free-riding’ on tax-payers south of the border. He has said it is ‘monstrous’ that we have free personal care. And he said a pound spent in Croydon is of far more value than a pound spent in Strathclyde.”

Responding to Ms Sturgeon’s announcement on child payments, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, said the announcement was “key policy which Scottish Labour has been calling for”.

But he added: “It shouldn’t have taken an election campaign for them to make the right choice for Scotland’s most vulnerable children.

“We have also frequently heard the SNP talking about national missions before choosing to prioritise the nationalist mission instead.”

Debbie Horne, senior policy officer at Citizens Advice Scotland, said: “This election comes at a time when a properly functioning social security safety net has never been so important.

“Over the next five years Scotland has the chance to create a world-leading social security system.

“The next Scottish Parliament must seize this opportunity to fully implement the changes set out in the SCoRSS manifesto.”

Back in Westminster, Mr Johnson’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said: “I would just point you to the over £11bn of funding which the UK government has made sure has gone up to Scotland and the Scottish people to help them deal with the pandemic, over and above what would normally be supplied under the Barnett consequential. This is funding in support of businesses and funding in support of people and their jobs through the furlough.

“Obviously there has also been support through the vaccine programme and the UK government has made sure that testing facilities could get to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

“So it’s manifestly the case that the UK government has made sure there was extra funding to support the Scottish people.”

She said there were “no plans whatsoever” to cut funding to Scotland, adding: “The direction of travel has been in the opposite direction. There’s been an increase in support for the Scottish people to help them through the pandemic.”

In response to Ms Sturgeon’s comments on the PM’s 2001 column, Ms Stratton said: “You’ve seen in the prime minister’s visits to Scotland since he became prime minister – to Orkney and to Edinburgh – he has declared that we are stronger together.

“This is something he feels, that we have an enormous amount to learn from the Scottish people and an enormous number of brilliant Scottish businesses.”

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