Spending on benefits for those with young families is forecast to more than double in the first year of the Scottish Government’s new Best Start Grant.
The Scottish Fiscal Commission has forecast that some 13,000 payments will be made in 2019-20, with £5.6 million expected to be handed out.
The payments will come into place before the end of 2018, six months ahead of the schedule, the Scottish Government announced.
And they will replace the UK Government’s Sure Start Maternity Grant – which pays out about £2.5 million in Scotland a year, with 5,000 families across the country benefiting.
Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the more generous payments being brought in by SNP ministers would mean “lower-income families who are feeling the effects of welfare cuts are given the extra help they need”.
Under the new system, qualifying families will receive a payment of £600 on the birth of the first child – £100 more than is currently paid by the Sure Start Maternity Grant.
Parents in Scotland will also be able to receive an additional £300 grant following the birth of any further children.
In addition to this they will receive a payment of £250 when their child starts nursery, with the same amount also given out when children go to school.
Regulations have been laid at the Scottish Parliament that will allow the new scheme to start later this year.
At the same time the Scottish Fiscal Commission released its forecasts of the cost of the new grants with this expected to rise from £5.6 million in 2019-20 to £6.6 million by 2023-24.
To be eligible for the payments, most parents must be in receipt of a qualifying benefit, although the Commission noted the Scottish Govenrment had expanded the qualifying criteria.
Meanwhile mothers under the age of 18 do not need to be in receipt of any benefits to receive the Best Start Grant, unlike the existing system.
Commission chair Dame Susan Rice said: “Best Start Grant is one of the first benefits to be administered by Social Security Scotland.
“We estimate that the Baby and Pregnancy Best Start Grant will more than double the number of payments made, compared to the current UK Government policy.”
Meanwhile Ms Somerville said: “I am delighted that Social Security Scotland will start making payments of the Best Start Grant earlier than initially anticipated – before the end of this year.
“The Best Start Grant Pregnancy and Baby Payment pays more money to more children than the Sure Start Maternity Grant – £600 on the birth of a first child and £300 on the birth of any further children meaning lower-income families who are feeling the effects of welfare cuts are given the extra help they need.
“As part of our focus on child poverty, further payments when a child might be starting nursery or school mean that we are providing families with extra financial support at crucial points in a child’s early years.
“A two child family can receive a total of £1900 over the three payments, an increase of up to £1400 on the current UK provision.
“The regulations laid today allow us to proceed towards payment later this year and we will continue to work with those with experience of the current system to make sure that it’s easy for families to access their Best Start Pregnancy and Baby Grant.”