Almost half of parents in Scotland are already finding it harder to pay their bills ahead of looming energy costs and other rising prices.
A survey, carried out between November and December last year, found 46% of parents said it was more difficult to afford their bills.
The research, carried out for a coalition of charities, also found that 47% of parents were less able to save some cash for the future compared to the same time the previous year.
Meanwhile, around one in five parents in Scotland had experienced a reduction in earnings (22%) or working hours (18%) over the last 12 months.
The research was carried out before the Bank of England warned the UK is facing the biggest fall in living standards since comparable records began three decades ago.
And it has sparked concern that families who were “just about managing” will now be “plunged into poverty”.
It comes after the energy regulator Ofgem revealed fuel bills will rise typically by £693 a year in the UK from April as it raised the price cap.
National insurance payments are also set to rise in April, while the Bank of England has warned inflation could rise to over 7% in the spring.
To try to help, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised all households a £200 discount on power bills in October, that will have to be repaid over five years.
Clare Simpson, director of Parenting across Scotland, demanded more be done by ministers at both Westminster and Holyrood to help those who are struggling to get by.
She stated: “It is clear that the proposed actions to address the cost-of-living increases are totally inadequate.
“Both Scottish and UK governments must take immediate targeted action to ensure help reaches those who need it.”
She spoke out after Parenting across Scotland – a coalition whose members include Children in Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, Scottish Adoption, and the Aberlour children’s charity – published the findings of the survey.
Ms Simpson said: “It is really worrying that even before the soaring energy bills, high cost of living increases and rising energy prices we’re facing now, families were finding it difficult to manage financially.
“It is concerning how widespread this is and means that many families who were ‘just managing’ are likely to be plunged into poverty.”
She insisted: “There is an urgent need for immediate targeted action from UK and Scottish Governments to ensure that families are protected from financial hardship.
“They need to put money in the pockets of the families who need it most; a rise in benefit levels in line with inflation would be the most effective way of doing this.”
One Parent Families Scotland said the “most straightforward” way the UK Government could help would be to increase social security benefits by 6% in April instead of the planned 3.1% rise
Satwat Rehman, director of One Parent Families Scotland, said: “Since the beginning of the pandemic single parents have borne the brunt of the economic and social fallout.
“The Parenting across Scotland findings confirm that single parents have experienced financial hardship in substantially greater numbers than other families.”
Judith Turbyne, chief executive of Children in Scotland, said: “This important new evidence from Parenting across Scotland shows how hard it has been for many families to make ends meet over the last year.
“It offers a stark warning that, with rising costs, this situation will only get worse, with dire consequences for children and young people.
“It is imperative that the Scottish and UK governments act now to protect families from further hardship and ensure all families have enough income to live by.”
Aberlour chief executive Sally Ann Kelly said applications to its urgent assistance fund had increased by more than 1000% during the pandemic.
She stated: “Many families are at breaking point. They are desperate and in despair.
“Parents tell us they are stressed and worried about their finances and about plunging further into debt. They tell us their children don’t have adequate clothing, that they aren’t sure where the next meal is coming from, and they are afraid to put the heating on.
“The cost-of-living crisis is pushing already struggling families over the edge. Without action from both the Scottish and UK Governments it will be disastrous for Scotland’s poorest children.”
A Treasury spokeswoman said: “We understand that people are concerned about pressures on household budgets, including rising energy bills which is why the Chancellor announced a £9bn package to protect millions of households against the impact of rising global energy prices.
“On top of this, we’re providing support worth around £12bn this financial year and next to help families with the cost of living. We’re cutting the Universal Credit taper to make sure work pays, freezing alcohol and fuel duties to keep costs down, and providing targeted support to help households with their energy bills.
“We’re also raising the National Living Wage to £9.50 per hour from April, meaning people working full time on the National Living Wage will see a £1000 increase in their annual earnings.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “These findings show how difficult some families are finding things already, with those in vulnerable circumstances most likely to suffer the greatest impact of ongoing price rises and energy costs.
“The Scottish Government has provided £25m to local authorities to tackle financial insecurity and a further £6m to third-sector partners to help low income families.
“We’ve also made £10m available to help people struggling with their heating costs this winter – as well as introducing the Scottish Child Payment, which we are doubling in April.
“However, powers relating to the energy markets remain reserved and we have repeatedly called for the UK Government to urgently take further actions to support the more vulnerable – including a reduction in VAT, targeted support for those on low incomes and four-nations discussions to develop an effective response to energy bill increases.”