Union leaders have joined forces with medical professionals, faith groups and charities to challenge the three candidates, who are vying to be Scotland’s next First Minister, to do more to tackle child poverty.
Around 70 organisations, including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, have endorsed a letter sent to each of the three politicians running for the next SNP leader – and by extension the next Scottish First Minister – and they push on this issue.
The letter, which was signed by the general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, along with leaders from unions Unite, Unison and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), went to Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan.
The End Child Poverty group coordinated the call, which comes the day before SNP members begin voting in the leadership contest.
Around one in four children in Scotland lives in poverty – although the Scottish Government has set a target of reducing this figure to less than 10% of young people living in relative poverty by 2030.
John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said on behalf of the End Child Poverty Coalition that the Scottish Government had made “great progress” in “putting in place the building blocks needed to end child poverty”. .
Ms Sturgeon’s government introduced the Scottish child benefit – a benefit paid to low-income families with children, with payment rates increased to £25 a week for each child.
Mr Dickie said this investment had “reduced pressure on disadvantaged families and brought legally binding child poverty targets within reach”.
But he added: “Far too many children are still in need and it is important now that those trying to become the next First Minister make a commitment not only to uphold current policy, but to build on it.”
“We would like candidates to set out what action they will take in relation to social security, employment, childcare, housing and family support to ensure that no child is left in poverty in Scotland.”
Ms Forbes, the Scottish Finance Minister, has already declared poverty eradication to be her “overriding mission as a politician”.
She said: “I find it shameful that one in four children lives in poverty – every night going to bed hungry, cold or lonely.
“The SNP has made great strides through the Scottish child payment, but we urgently need to do more.
“I believe we must completely change the way we fight poverty, through fair, secure employment, more investment in frontline services and charities, and make child poverty a national mission.
“This can only be achieved if we make the Scottish economy more prosperous as this creates more and better jobs and mobilizes more funds to reinvest in frontline services. Not only can we tackle the symptoms of poverty, we must tackle the root causes.”
Mr Yousaf, meanwhile, said he was “incredibly proud” of his party’s track record in tackling child poverty – highlighting measures such as Scottish child payments, expanding free school meals and helping low-income families feed their children over the holidays.
But he said there was “still more work to be done”, adding: “If I am elected First Minister, the fight against child poverty will be at the heart of what we do – in terms of social security, housing, education and the economy of children from the Eradicating poverty will be a defining theme of my government.”
He has pledged £25m to a scheme to help families with the initial cost of childcare and also said he would “want to explore what else we can do on Scottish child payments”.
But he explained: “Clearly the main cause of child poverty is the actions of the Tory government in Westminster, which still holds far too many of the main policy levers in relation to social security and the economy.
“And while as First Minister I will be passionate about Scotland being given full powers of independence and taking a different path from Westminster, that will not prevent me from working day and night and taking whatever action we can now.” Scotland is the best place in the world to grow up and do whatever it takes to end child poverty.”