PARENTS skipping meals, children going to school hungry and families turning off the heating in an attempt to save money.

If there was ever a time for the Chancellor to take real action to help struggling households it is now.

The stark reality is households are facing the biggest fall in living standards since records began in 1956.

A raft of gloomy figures published by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) shows how food, fuel and energy bills are rapidly rising - costs that will hit the poorest households hardest.

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Ahead of his Spring Statement, Rishi Sunak had faced calls from campaigners, charity and opposition politicians to make sure the most vulnerable in society were offered help to deal with the cost-of-living crisis - such as increasing benefits.

His mini-budget was met with dismay and dire warnings over the impact spiralling costs will have in the months to come.

Claire Telfer, head of Scotland at charity Save the Children, accused the Chancellor of “burying his head in the sand”.

“In today’s statement he’s refused to face up to the reality of rising prices or to step in and shield the children hardest hit,” she said.

“For families in Scotland on low incomes this crisis has become unbearable. Parents we work with tell us that there’s nothing left to cut back.

“They’re being forced to skip meals, turn off the heating, and take on unsustainable amounts of debt.

“Children are going to school hungry because food budgets are stretched so thin. 

“The measures the chancellor has announced will benefit those on middle and higher incomes most and won’t come to close to closing the gap rising prices have left in family budgets.”

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Barnardo’s chief executive Lynn Perry said: "The cost-of-living crisis is getting worse every day and families who previously had to choose between heating or eating are increasingly unable to afford to do either.

"Whilst we welcome the Government’s attempts to support families, including by increasing the threshold for National Insurance and the Household Support Fund we would have liked to see more extensive and targeted financial support that better recognises the help vulnerable families, children and young people need to relieve the challenges they currently face.”

The National:

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) also warned Sunak has failed to help the “very poorest” despite warnings of the biggest hit to living standards since the 1950s.

IFS director Paul Johnson said that “what really stands out today is what’s missing”.

He added: “In the face of what the OBR calls the biggest hit to household finances since comparable records began in 1956-57 he has done nothing more for those dependent on benefits, the very poorest, besides a small amount of extra cash for local authorities to dispense at their discretion.

“Their benefits will rise by just 3.1% for the coming financial year. Their cost of living could well rise by 10%.”

Sunak’s headline promises were an increase in the National Insurance threshold, a cut in the basic rate of income tax by the next general election in 2024, along with a 5p cut in fuel duty to help motorists.

He has been desperate to present himself as a Chancellor who cuts rather than raises taxes.

However, the OBR pointed out the tax burden is set to hit its highest level since the 1940s in the years to come.

Experts said the net tax rises plus the “more tax-rich composition” of forecasted economic activity raises the tax burden from 33% of GDP in 2019/20 to 36.3% in 2026/27.

Tom Waters, senior research economist at the IFS said: “The Chancellor is today giving with one hand in tax, having previously taken away with the other.”

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In defence of his plans, Sunak has pointed to uncertainty around knowing the full impact on the Ukraine war on the economy and that the OBR had warned about "unusually high uncertainty" in its economic forecasts.

What is certain for many of the poorest households in Scotland is that they are already struggling with a devastating cost of living crisis - and the impact will be felt for a long time to come.

John Dickie, director of Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said Sunak had “failed the children who needed him the most”.

“The measures he announced don’t come close to bridging the gap between what the lowest income families have and what they need,” he warned.

“It will leave tens of thousands of children stranded in the face of the highest prices in a generation.”