Desperate parents are sending their children to school hungry and in dirty clothes as the cost of living crisis deepens.
Lone parent charity Fife Gingerbread has seen a huge rise in the number of families falling into poverty.
And with fuel prices set to rocket, it is calling on communities to do all they can to help.
The Glenrothes-based organisation raised £33,000 before Christmas, thanks to an overwhelming response to its annual Heat and Eat Appeal.
The money is used to help struggling families with gas and electricity bills and to provide food over the festive season.
But there has been a 17% rise in the number of people seeking Fife Gingerbread’s help.
People are trapped in poverty.”
Linsey Proctor, Fife Gingerbread.
And more families in need are identified every week.
In January last year, the organisation provided £205 towards families’ fuel costs.
But a year later, the figure had soared to £1,330.
Linsey Proctor, from Fife Gingerbread, said: “We didn’t know it would become such a crisis.
“It’s a massive problem and people are trapped in poverty and can’t get out.
“The response to our Heat and Eat Appeal was incredible and we saw some amazing generosity.
“But given the rise in fuel bills, we don’t know how long that money will last.”
Children are going hungry
Linsey says many families are too proud to seek help.
But evidence they are at breaking point is often noticed and reported – and this leads to support being put in place.
“Health visitors are seeing an increase in young children ending up in hospital with bronchitis,” said Linsey.
“This is because people are switching off their heating and houses become damp.
“Some are sending children to school when they’re poorly because they know they’ll get warm.
“And now that kids are back at school, teachers are noticing things that aren’t right.
“Clothes aren’t washed, kids are hungry or a bit upset.
“People docking meals is a big problem. Kids are having lunch at school but nothing at teatime when they get home.”
A warm home should be a given right
Despite the perception of some, the vast majority of those helped by Fife Gingerbread are doing all they can to help themselves.
But those on zero hours contracts or universal credit simply can’t afford to pay the rising bills.
“People are desperate,” said Linsey.
“They’re not spending their money on going out and fake tan and eyelashes. They’re not doing that.
“But their food is going up a tenner a week and heating is rising by 70%.
“They’re already skint and there’s no movement in their income. What do they do?”
According to Linsey, society’s attitude to poverty needs to change.
“The main thing that would help is a shift in understanding,” she said.
“There are all sorts of reasons people are in the situations they’re in. Nobody knows anybody else’s story.
“This is Scotland in the 21st century. It shouldn’t be an aspiration to be warm.
“It should be a given right that we have a warm home.”
Ways to help Fife Gingerbread
There are a number of ways people can help Fife Gingerbread support families in need.
Donations, fundraising and volunteering are all welcome.
The charity runs teatime clubs to ensure children have a healthy meal after school.
And there has been a huge increase in the number of youngsters attending.
“We’re getting a lot more coming and that’s because it’s warm and there’s food,” said Linsey.
As a result, more volunteers are needed to help there, and at toddler clubs.
The charity also runs a virtual kiltwalk to raise funds every year and people can donate online.
And there is a JustGiving page and ways for businesses to get involved.
“All money raised goes straight back into the families we support,” Linsey said.
“We would much rather be raising money for days out and fun things that our kids don’t have access to.
“But unfortunately this is the situation we’re in and we really rely on the generosity of others.”