New research has found hundreds of thousands of Scots have been unable to eat or heat their homes.
Benefits payments must be brought in line with inflation to prevent Scots being forced into debt and through the doors of food banks, a charity has said.
New research has shown over one in three Scots receiving Universal Credit were forced into a downward spiral of debt this winter as payments failed to cover soaring cost of living.
An online YouGov poll of people claiming Universal Credit shows 36 per cent of Scots receiving the benefit have been forced into the red this winter just to eat and pay bills.
The report also found one in six people in Scotland who receive Universal Credit needed to visit a food bank at least once since the start of December.
As a result, over 160,000 people were currently going without food, while others were living in cold conditions as they couldn’t afford to power and heat their homes.
The Trussell Trust has said this research has revealed the true and devastating consequences of the current cost of living crisis, with thousands of families across Scotland struggling to get by.
The charity is now calling on UK government to urgently bring benefit levels in line with the rate of inflation as a bare minimum this Spring Statement to help prevent more people being forced into debt and to food banks.
This situation is only set to get worse, the charity said, with inflation set to hit at least seven per cent this April.
The UK government is due to increase benefit levels by just 3.1 per cent - less than half of what is needed to even begin to make up the shortfall - the equivalent just a £2 a week rise, which the charity highlights as “dangerously insufficient” in light of the soaring living costs people are facing.
This comes on top of the £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit introduced in November and a five-year freeze on benefits rates which means these payments are worth 11 per cent less than they were a decade ago.
Polly Jones, head of Scotland at the Trussell Trust, said: “Right now, the cost of living is forcing thousands of families across Scotland into a downward spiral of debt just to get by.
“People are telling us they're going days with minimal food, are having to endure the cold to save money and are being forced to turn to food banks with devastating effects on people’s mental health.
The charity also worked with Humankind research to interview 48 people who told researchers debt forces them into a downward spiral for their finances, their family and their mental health.
Dee, 60 from Aberdeen, worked in the building sector but was made redundant and now receives Universal Credit.
She said: “It’s just so disheartening to think that I’m in debt through no fault of my own. It still won’t be paid off until I’m well into my pension. It’s causing me ongoing stress to feel like I’m never getting to the end of it. It’s overwhelming and really drags me down.”
Ms Jones added: “Social security should be protecting people from debt and food banks - not pushing them towards it.
“This isn’t right. We know the situation is only set to get worse and we cannot wait any longer.
“That’s why we are calling on the UK Government to bring benefits in line with the forecast rate of inflation as a bare minimum in the upcoming Spring Statement, to prevent thousands more people across Scotland being forced into debt and through the doors of food banks.
“We are also calling on the Scottish Government to invest further in the Scottish Welfare Fund so that no one needs to use a food bank to get by.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressures people are facing with the cost of living, which is why we’re providing support worth £21 billion this financial year and next to help. This includes putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families via changes to Universal Credit, freezing fuel duties to keep costs down and helping households with their energy bills through our £9.1 billion Energy Bills Rebate.
“We’re also boosting the minimum wage by more than £1,000 a year for full-time workers and our £500 million Household Support Fund is helping the most vulnerable with essential costs.
“Meanwhile, the Scottish Parliament has significant welfare powers and can top up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility."