One in 10 children will face Christmas deprived of warmth or fresh food, a charity has warned.
Action for Children said that 64,026 children aged 10 and under from low-income families in Scotland are facing a difficult festive season, lacking basics such as a warm coat and a heated home.
New research from the charity also shows parents living below the breadline are able to spend on average just £2 a day per child on food and struggle to afford nutritious food vital for health and development.
With no free school meals available during the school holidays, this leaves many low-income families struggling to afford lunch for their children.
Action for Children said workers at its frontline services describe child poverty levels as “the worst they can remember”.
Paul Carberry, Action for Children director for Scotland, said: “No parent should have to face the awful prospect of their youngster sitting in the cold without a plate of food to eat at the end of a school day, or skip dinner themselves so their child has a meal.”
He added: “While some families will spend the Christmas holidays putting their children to bed early to keep warm because they can’t afford to heat the house, for others it has become the norm not to have a winter coat, rely on food banks, or for their children to miss out on hot meals.
“The next UK government must deliver ambitious policies to end child poverty and bring in a National Childhood Strategy to give all our children a safe and happy childhood.”
Action for Children says at least 50 of its services have provided food bank support over the past year, and with demand so high it is planning to host unofficial food banks again over the festive season.
Leanne, from Glasgow, and her partner have four children under 12 and both work but still sometimes struggle to put food on the table.
The 34-year-old, who did not want to give her surname, said: “After my third was old enough, I got myself a 13-hour contract job at night. It wasn’t much but I had three kids under 10 so I wanted to be there for them.
“My partner was in full-time work and I was part-time, I was so optimistic, and I just thought ‘we are going to be so happy now’. But then all the bills and taxes came in. Despite us both having an income, we had less than ever. I remember saying to my partner that we can’t afford to work.”
She added: “One day, I went to the Action for Children centre and just broke down. That was when my worker got me access to the food bank. But I was so embarrassed.
“How was it fair that we are both working, and we are in the food bank, how are people able to survive?”
The 34-year-old is now back at work four months after giving birth to her son but the family are still struggling.
She said: “This year I am finding it a lot harder than I did last.
“Thankfully my mum does the Christmas dinner, but if she didn’t, we wouldn’t be having one. It would be another night of pasta or hot dogs from a can.”
The charity analysed official data which showed that 64,026 children aged 10 and under in Scotland are living in materially deprived, low-income families, which is 10% of the total under-10 population of 618,251.
Action for Children is urging people to support its Secret Santa campaign and help vulnerable children by texting WARM to 70175 to donate £10 or by visiting www.iamsanta.org.uk/scotland.