The Scottish Government should effectively abolish Westminster’s “abhorrent” two child benefit cap and the so-called “rape clause” in the Holyrood Budget, Richard Leonard has said.
He insisted Scottish ministers could use devolved powers to ensure families north of the border are not penalised by the reforms.
Mitigating the financial impact of these two policies would cost the Scottish Government £69 million in 2019-20, Scottish Labour said.
Mr Leonard called on ministers to use the forthcoming budget on December 12 to “end this injustice in Scotland once and for all”.
Almost 4,000 families in Scotland are affected by the two-child cap, losing up to £2,780 in benefits a year as a result, Labour said.
It comes after UK Government benefit reforms introduced in April 2017 meant families receiving child tax credits and the childcare element of Universal Credit could only claim them for their first two children.
One of the exemptions to this is the so-called “rape clause”, which requires claimants to prove a child was conceived through rape or during an abusive relationship to qualify for the benefit.
Scottish Tory welfare spokeswoman Michelle Ballantyne caused controversy last month when she defended the UK Government’s decision to limit the number of children families could claim tax credits for.
Speaking in a Holyrood debate, the Conservative MSP said: “The two-child limit is about fairness.
“It is fair that people on benefit cannot have as many children as they like, while people who work and pay their way and don’t claim benefits have to make decisions about the number of children they can have.”
But Mr Leonard replied: “The two-child cap and resulting rape clause are abhorrent and must be scrapped.
“Here in Scotland, we could do so with the stroke of a pen, and help protect women from the worst effects of a Tory government.”
Speaking ahead of addressing the Scottish Labour Women’s Conference in Dunfermline, he insisted: “The entire purpose of the Scottish Parliament is to allow Scotland to make different choices.
“Scotland has the power to build a fairer social security system.
“The SNP government must use its budget to end this injustice in Scotland once and for all.”
Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “This shows everything that is wrong with Scottish Labour – instead of attacking Tory policies like the rape clause, they focus instead on the SNP.
“Richard Leonard and his Labour colleagues could join us in demanding the transfer of all welfare powers to Holyrood from Westminster – but instead they would rather leave those powers in the hands of the Tories.
“The rape clause is a fundamental violation of human rights and we have repeatedly raised our concerns with the UK Government about the impact of their ideologically-driven polices.
“There are no circumstances under which it is acceptable for a woman to disclose she has been raped in order to access social security.
“We will invest over £125 million in 2018/19 on welfare mitigation and measures to help protect those on low incomes from the worst impact of the UK Government’s welfare cuts – more than £20 million more than last year.
“But the Scottish Government should not have to spend its budget to paper over the cracks of the Tories’ welfare cuts, which amount to billions of pounds per year in Scotland.”