This week's Community Column sees Helensburgh and Lomond's constituency MSP, Jackie Baillie, write about the growing cost of living crisis - and what she thinks could be done to tackle it.

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People in communities across Helensburgh and Lomond are currently looking down the barrel of a cost of living crisis.

Few will have failed to notice the increase in prices on our supermarket shelves – and now energy bills are set to go up by almost £700 following the price cap increase announcement by Ofgem.

Inflation is rising, National Insurance is going up in April, and our water bills are increasing.

It is a desperately worrying time for everyone, none more so than those already living on the breadline.

Just last month, the Helensburgh and Lomond Foodbank reported a rise in demand for their services and now, with these additional costs, this will increase further.

They do a fantastic job providing supplies to those most in need – as do the fabulous members of the community who donate so generously.

READ MORE: One third of Argyll and Bute households is living in fuel poverty, say energy campaigners

In the Scottish Parliament, when I have raised the concerns of people trying to make ends meet, the Scottish Government’s standard response is to blame Westminster.

But there are things that can be done here to offset some of the financial pressures people are experiencing.

Firstly, the Scottish Government has the power to freeze water charges, especially as Scottish Water are sitting on £400 million pounds of reserves, yet they are pushing ahead with increases to our bills despite the cost of living crisis.

Another is ensuring people are paid the wages they deserve. One way to do this is to back Scottish Labour’s proposal to increase wages for social care staff to £15 per hour. This is no more than they thoroughly deserve.

And a third is for MPs to turn up to crucial votes which impact people across the United Kingdom.

READ MORE: 'To heat or to eat': Helensburgh food bank braced for steep rise in demand as cost of living crisis bites

The SNP were missing in action at Westminster last week with not one backing Labour’s plan for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies which could see households given as much as £600 towards their energy bills. This is all while Shell and BP are pocketing profits of £44,000 a minute.

In addition, we are seeing more people heading back to the office after guidance to work from home was lifted by the Scottish Government.

This is an important step in Covid recovery. It will benefit our high streets and also the wellbeing of staff who crave that one-to-one contact with colleagues. Some workplaces may even see increased productivity as a result.

However, travel to and from the office for people in Helensburgh and beyond remains beset with problems as ScotRail announced a reduction in services following plans to shut ticket offices and the biggest fare rise in a decade.

We must do better for the people in our communities to make sure basic costs can be met so we can face brighter days ahead.

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