Gordon Brown has accused SNP ministers of wasting more than £700 million on setting up a separate social security agency in Scotland.
The former prime minister said the money could have been used to help alleviate poverty.
He said Social Security Scotland, which has responsibility for devolved benefits, was created for “status reasons”, rather than for the delivery of benefits.
It came as a poll for Our Scottish Future, the think tank set up by Mr Brown, found more than half of Scots think wrangling over the constitution has left the country “stuck in a rut”. A total of 53 per cent of those questioned agreed that after a “decade of constitutional debate, Scotland now feels stuck in a rut”, with only 10 per cent disagreeing.
Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Mr Brown insisted there is an urgent need for ministers at Holyrood and Westminster to work together to tackle poverty. He said rows between the SNP Government in Edinburgh and the Conservative administration in London have turned politics into a “Punch and Judy show”.
The former prime minister said he is now seeing poverty he never thought he would see again, and warned the next winter “is going to be as bad if not worse than the last winter”. He said bills have gone up in almost every area and families “cannot make ends meet”.
Mr Brown criticised the creation of Social Security Scotland, which was formed in 2018. He said: "Now what’s happened in Scotland with poverty, is that the Scottish Government has set up a separate social security agency. So you’ve got the Department for Work and Pensions and you’ve got the social security agency in Scotland.
"But the Department for Work and Pensions can pay the benefits – whatever benefits the Scottish Government decide, can be paid through the Department for Work and Pensions. Just like if you’re paying income tax in Scotland you’ve got a separate rate, and it’s paid through the Inland Revenue [now called HM Revenue and Customs].
"So why did the Scottish Government spend £700 million in resources setting up a separate social security agency, when if you wanted a child poverty payment, it could be paid through the Department for Work and Pensions? I’ve never heard a satisfactory answer to that question.
"And I think it’s the intransigence of the DWP and I think it’s the intransigence of the Scottish Government. You’ve got ultra-nationalism on the one hand and almost nihilism on the other hand.
"And so you end up with £700 million that’s probably about £2,000 per family in poverty, that could have been used to solve the problem of poverty, but we’ve set up two separate, expensive bureaucracies to administer payments for families. Now surely we can do things better than that.
"And the waste of money, simply because the Scottish Government wanted a separate agency for status reasons, rather than for the delivery of benefits.”
SNP MP David Linden MP said: “It is absolutely astounding to hear Gordon Brown siding with the Tories by attacking Scotland’s social security system – which is based on fairness, dignity and respect – and standing in the way of more powers to tackle poverty coming to Scotland.
“The SNP has fought long and hard to see additional tax and social security powers devolved to our Parliament, and we’ve used the limited powers we do have alongside our fixed budget, to make Scotland fairer – including through the delivery of 13 new benefits including the game-changing Scottish Child Payment, which is unique in the UK and we have increased to £25 per week per child.
“However, for as long as the key powers to tackle the cost of living remain at Westminster, and we are forced to spend hundreds of millions of pounds mitigating Tory welfare cuts and fighting Labour’s refusal to scrap the brutal two-child cap, in Scotland, we will be tackling poverty with one hand tied behind our back."