Almost a third of families on low incomes have had to turn to charity for help with food and clothes in the past two months, according to new research.
Save the Children found families are “reeling from the cost of lockdown”, with more than a third of those on low incomes saying they have been left even worse off by the pandemic.
The charity’s survey of families on Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit found more than half have gone into debt in the past two months while 29% have relied on help from charities for food and clothes.
More than four in ten of all those surveyed said they are in rent arrears or behind on household bills.
Save the Children is warning this winter will be more difficult than ever for many families, with an inevitable rise in heating and other household costs and the prospect of further restrictions and job losses increasing the pressure on already over-stretched budgets.
The charity is calling on the UK and Scottish governments to provide stronger “income lifelines” for families, and is also urging Chancellor Rishi Sunak to scrap what it says is a £1000 benefit cut in April 2021, when it is planned that a boost to Universal Credit introduced at the start of the pandemic will be taken away.
Claire Telfer, head of Save the Children in Scotland, said: “With winter on its way and more job losses expected, things are about to get even more difficult for Scots families still reeling from the cost of lockdown.
“Parents tell us they’re barely surviving. They’re already having to go without meals or electricity when their money runs out, and many are worried that the cost of heating their homes through the winter will push them into even more debt.
“It’s just not right that parents are having to borrow money, sell their possessions or rely on charity to buy winter coats for their children. Our country’s safety net is supposed to help those who need it through difficult times.
“But families with children, many of whom were struggling even before the crisis, are being left – quite literally – in the cold.
“The Chancellor set out his plan for jobs, which is crucial given the unemployment rise facing us.
“But he must also recognise the added pressure families are under right now and make policy decisions that reflect that reality, and have our children’s best interests at heart.”
The survey was carried out between September 17 and 30 when 467 parents claiming either Universal Credit or Child Tax Credit were questioned in Scotland.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it is “committed to supporting families through these challenging times”.
She added: “That is why we have invested over £350m to support our communities.”
The cash includes £12.6m to provide free school meals over summer and £57.5m for the Scottish Welfare Fund.
She criticised UK Government benefit cuts and highlighted the Scottish Child Payment of £10 per child per week will open to new applications for eligible children under six next month.
A UK Government spokesman said: “We’ve invested an extra £9bn in our welfare system to help those most in need through the pandemic, including by increasing Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by up to £20 a week, as well as introducing income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and additional support for renters.
“The Government will continue to do all it can to support the lowest paid families while focusing on helping people into work.”