Scottish authorities should use the powers they have to mitigate the effects of the economic crisis and UK benefit cuts, anti-poverty campaigners have said.
Those involved in the debate "need to bring the focus back to Scotland", as well as engaging with the UK Tory-Lib Dem coalition that is driving through benefit changes, Holyrood's Welfare Reform Committee was told.
The Scottish Government, Holyrood, local authorities of all political persuasions, banks and even individual schools all have powers to alleviate poverty, but committee vice-convener Jamie Hepburn, an SNP MSP, said Scotland's powers of mitigation are "somewhat limited" and that MSPs could be more responsive if Holyrood controlled welfare.
Convener Michael McMahon, a Labour MSP, urged the committee to focus on the issue at hand: ensuring that benefit claimants do not lose out on so-called passported benefits when the single universal credit system comes in next month.
Passported benefits are entitlements that use UK benefits, such as housing benefit or child tax credits, as a "passport" to access local services such as free school meals or school clothing vouchers.
Some councils set up unnecessary boundaries to passported benefits, campaigners said, such as Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council which insists that claimants need to have a bank account. Banks were criticised for charging poor families money for copies of bank statements which are needed for evidence to be eligible for benefits.
Schools also came under fire for insisting that families use school clothing vouchers to buy uniforms from approved suppliers, often at a premium, when cheaper alternatives are available from supermarkets.
John Dickie, head of Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said: "There is little that we can do in Scotland around the benefit cuts.
"What we can do within the range of devolved benefits, such as free school meals, local authority school clothing grants and other benefits, is find ways of ensuring that the mechanisms we have in place for passporting people to the benefits, that are within the control of this Parliament and Government in Scotland, are designed in such a way to minimise any stigma whatsoever."
Eddie Follan, reform policy and campaigns officer with Scottish Campaign on Welfare, a coalition of around 60 organisations, faith groups, unions and charities, said: "We need to bring the focus back to Scotland a wee bit. We have a huge opportunity with the powers we have on passported benefits to look at mitigation and not just maintaining what we have but looking at how we can extend that and maintain the principle of lifting people out of poverty."