STRUGGLING Scottish families are increasingly reliant on grandparents for childcare and financial support, it has been claimed.

New Scottish Government figures show the vital role the older generation plays in family life, with many parents unable to get by without their help.

The Growing Up in Scotland survey reveals 69% of families rely on grandparents for childcare, with 56% looking after their grandchildren at least once a week. More than half (57%) of grandmothers and grandfathers also provide financial support to their families – a rise of 16% between 2005/06 and 2011/12.

Charities say this is in line with the economic climate in which many parents are struggling to make ends meet.

Lynn Chesterman, chief executive of the Grandparents' Association, said: "Without the unstinting support of grandparents who, sometimes at great cost to themselves, undertake to support the younger members of the family either with childcare, financial support or help in kind, there would be more families living in poverty."

A spokeswoman for charity Grandparents Plus added: "That more than half of grandparents are providing financial assistance to young families is a reflection of the difficult financial situation facing parents."

The report says grandparents remain the most commonly used form of childcare, followed by nurseries, other informal provision and childminders. It also reveals a significant jump in grandparents helping around the house with cooking, cleaning and DIY, with a 25% increase over the four-year period.

The data shows families with young children had less income in 2011/12 than in 2005/06, with the number of families with an annual income of less than £10,833 increasing 6% to 27%.

Parenting Across Scotland warned that, with childcare costs higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK, more needs to be done to help struggling parents.

A spokeswoman said: "Parents in Scotland use grandparents to provide childcare more than those in the rest of the UK. Childcare costs in Scotland are among the highest in the UK. Surely these two facts are not unconnected.

"Not all parents have family nearby who are able to help with childcare, and increasingly many grandparents are working themselves. We can't rely on grandparents to shoulder the childcare burden. The Scottish Government needs to ensure parents get the help with childcare that they need."

The report, which looks at life as a 10-month-old child in Scotland in 2011, also reveals increasing numbers of mothers are acting on healthy living messages during pregnancy.

A total of 80% of mothers in 2011/12 reported they had drunk no alcohol during pregnancy – up from 74% in 2005/06. However, 23% continued to smoke while carrying a child.

The number of parents reading to their children most days also increased by 4%.

Minister for Children and Young People, Aileen Campbell, said: "This study provides us with the evidence we need to help make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up. We have invested £4.5 million to support local solutions to family support and child care."