Low-income families will get a cash boost before Christmas, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The key policy of her speech to the SNP conference in Aberdeen was to double the payment that is made to families of almost 150,000 children.

The First Minister said the Scottish Government would double the cash paid out in the bridging payments to families where children qualify for free school meals.

The payments have been worth £130 but Sturgeon said the next instalment will be doubled.

She said: “Rather than looking forward to Christmas, too many families will be dreading it.

“Dreading it because they don’t know if they can afford to heat their homes or even pay for food.”

She said over the last year quarterly “bridging payments” of £130 have been made.

The FM said the payments have gone to “children and young people in receipt of free school meals, but who don’t qualify for the Child Payment”.

She announced: “The final instalment - ahead of the extension of the Child Payment and due in the next few weeks - will not be £130. We will double it to £260.

“That will help put food on the Christmas table for families of 145,000 children and young people.”

She added: “I hope this investment of almost £20m will bring a bit of Christmas cheer to those who need it most.”

The announcement was welcomed by anti-poverty campaigners.

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said: “This is really good news for thousands of families of school-aged children who are struggling to make ends meet in the face of soaring food and fuel prices.

“An extra £130 makes a real difference when cupboards are bare, debts are mounting and children’s wellbeing is suffering.

“More support will inevitably be needed in the coming months from every level of Government, but the First Minister has heard the calls, listened to the evidence and acted in the face of extraordinary cost of living pressures”

In her speech closing the three-day conference, the First Minister rallied her party ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on whether a second independence referendum is within the Scottish Government’s powers, without the approval of the UK Government.

She said that the cost-of-living crisis was a reason for independence not an argument against it.

The UK Government, under Liz Truss, she said “caused mayhem in the markets with her decision to borrow billions of pounds to fund tax cuts for the richest”.

She said the UK Government was creating “borrowing to be repaid by eye-watering austerity cuts and a raid on the incomes of the poorest”.

The actions were, she said, “unconscionable”.

The FM posed a question she said is often put to her - 'why propose a referendum in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis?’

She said: “The answer is in the question. The answer is the cost-of-living crisis.

“It is the Tory response to it. It is the financial chaos. And it is the damage of Brexit.

"All of that is laying bare, each and every day, the harm being done to people in Scotland because we are not independent.”

Sturgeon said she will set out economic plans for an independent Scotland next week based on energy resources.

She said: “One week today we will publish the next in our Building a New Scotland
series of papers.

“It will make the economic case for independence.

“It will set out how we can build a new, sustainable economy based on our massive
renewable energy resources.

“It will show how in an energy-rich, independent Scotland, we can deliver lower prices and stronger security of supply.”

The economic prospectus would, she said, “propose to invest remaining oil revenues and use our borrowing powers, not to cut tax for the richest, but to set up an independence investment fund”.

Sturgeon added: “The Building a New Scotland Fund will deliver up to £20bn of investment in the first decade of independence."

She said it could support a massive programme to decarbonise housing, cut fuel bills
and reduce fuel poverty.

Adding: “It could finance the building of thousands more affordable homes.”