THE cost of living crisis is having a “disproportionate” impact on women, with some forced to make “Dickensian” choices on heating and eating, campaigners say.

With the increase in energy and food prices, a warning has been issued over the additional burden which has been placed on women who often have responsibility for making budgets stretch and meeting the needs of their families.

Women are struggling to feed their children, turning to food banks as a “staple”, selling wedding rings to get by and not switching on heating to keep costs down, according to reports.

The issue of how the rising cost of living is affecting women is currently the subject of an inquiry by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, which has received a wide range of evidence from across the UK.

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Among the submissions is one from the Scottish Women’s Convention (SWC), an organisation which aims to make sure the views of women reaches policymakers.

Chair Agnes Tolmie said: “What we’re finding is when we speak to women, I don’t think there’s anything significantly different in the fact that we are finding that women are bearing the burden of the cost of living rises and increases.

“Because it’s always falling on women’s shoulders anyway to make budgets stretch and meet the everyday demands of their families.

“What we’re seeing is that women are really struggling with the price of food and energy bills have got people absolutely petrified.”

One woman quoted in the SWC evidence said: “Fifteen years unemployed, single parent means I have struggled at times to feed myself and my kids foodbanks are my staple.”

Another said: “A normal food shop has doubled in price since last year. Gas and electric prices have more than doubled. People are choosing between food and heating. Some parents are going hungry so their kids can eat.”

The impact on different groups of women is highlighted in the SWC report including those living in rural areas. One comment said: “There are lots of folks who can’t afford to heat their houses and just live in the one room. We are seeing a massive increase in clients being referred to the foodbank.”

Tolmie said people having to live in one room and cutting down on food due to cost reasons was “absolutely Dickensian”.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of women in what we would regard as decent jobs having to go to use food banks,” she said.

“Food banks have now become institutionalised almost in our society, where women and families are just saying, well, you know, we could budget to that day and we rely on food banks for this other day or two days or whatever it is.”

The National:

Tolmie (above) said women reported also making the effort to buy less and use second-hand goods –but out of necessity, rather than for environmental reasons.

“There’s a difference between doing something for choice and having to - that puts a burden on you emotionally,” she said.

“Some women are actually ashamed of the situation they’re in; they work full time, their partners working full time, they’re having to go to these places to get school uniforms that other kids have worn.”

She added: “If that was a normal society where that was what we did - and it is becoming that, which may be a good thing.

“It is not when you have to wake up in the morning and wonder, 'how do I feed my family? How do I afford my kids to go on a school trip? How, how am I going to pay these bills?'

“And they’re trying to do that against the background of keeping their head above water and retaining some kind of dignity.”

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Tolmie also warned there were many struggling to get by on the current state pension and younger women were being left unable to save up for retirement while living in an economic crisis and “trying to get through a day at a time of feeding clothing and looking after the kids”.

She said the provision of free childcare - which she described as a “magic wand, but doable” - would be one way of significantly helping.

“We have women who are telling us that they’re [spending] more than half their wages on childcare,” she said.

“So they’re caught between that whole dichotomy of having to work to earn money, but half of it’s going on childcare so that doesn’t make any economic sense at all.

“We would like to see a different kind of childcare system - a system that operates for the needs of the society that we live in.”

The SWC evidence also criticises UK Government policies on welfare, such as the two-child benefit cap, which it says “unfairly penalises” mothers and pushes many into further poverty.

And it called for the expansion of the Scottish Child Payment - currently £25 a week - across the UK, stating: “This has been viewed positively by women in Scotland, and - if adopted by the UK Government - may reduce the economic suffering of women across the country.”

Ruth Boyle, policy and campaigns manager at The Poverty Alliance, highlighted that women have lower levels of savings and wealth and are more likely to be in low-paid and undervalued work.

“As a result of their caring responsibilities, women also face barriers to increasing their working hours and earnings,” she said.

“We did research with the Scottish Women’s Budget Group looking at how the cost-of-living crisis was affecting women.

“We found examples of women selling wedding rings to just get by, going without food themselves in order to feed their children, and not switching on heating.”

She added: “The UK Government can help by raising benefits like Universal Credit, so that they provide enough to cover people’s essentials. They should also scrap unjust and ineffective policies like the two-child cap which have a disproportionate impact on women.

“More than 90% of lone parents in Scotland are women, and we can help them by raising the Scottish Child Payment to £40, so that we can meet our legal child poverty pledges. We know tackling women’s poverty is key to tackling child poverty.”