The UK's poorest families have been left "defenceless" as they are hit up to a third harder by inflation than the richest households due to the increasing cost of essentials such as gas and food, a charity has said.
Barnardo's Real Cost of Living report shows that poor households are being disproportionately hit by rising prices, leaving parents struggling to provide basics for their children.
The report comes the week before the Government introduces a cap of 1% a year on benefit increases, breaking the link between benefits and inflation.
The price of essential utilities soared last year, with gas bills rising by 10.4%, electricity by 5.7%, and food by 3.1%. The report says poor families spend up to 1.75 times as much as richer families as a proportion of their weekly budget on essentials such as fuel, energy and food.
As a result they were particularly affected by sharp increases in the price of these basics last year, experiencing inflation at 3.4% - up to a third more than those on the highest incomes who experienced it at 2.5%.
According to the charity's research the price hikes have resulted in parents saying that they struggle to heat their homes or provide fruit and vegetables for their children. Barnardo's believes the report raises concerns about the impact of the Government's policy to cap benefit increases on the 3.6 million children who are living in poverty in the UK.
Anne Marie Carrie, chief executive of Barnardo's, is calling on the Government to review its policy if the Consumer Price Index rises 2.5% above inflation during the next two years .
"The soaring cost of food and fuel has already hit the poorest families hardest, leaving parents on the lowest incomes struggling to provide for their children.
"With the Government's decision to break the link between benefits and inflation, it leaves the UK's most vulnerable families defenceless against further food and energy price hikes rendering children more susceptible to poor diets, cold and illness in the future.
"If the Government is to meet its legal duty to eradicate child poverty by 2020, it must review the cap on benefits increases and act now to lift families out of poverty by helping them manage the rising cost of essentials such as fuel," she said.