Welfare policies should be shaped by the hidden factors behind rural poverty, a leading Highlands MSP has said.

Kate Forbes MSP believes that higher prices for food, clothes, fuel and travel have contributed to the "stark reality of Highland poverty".

Welfare policies, which continue to be largely a reserved matter, have faced extensive criticism over the last few years.

Ms Forbes said she felt moved to write on the subject after meeting a homeless man sleeping rough in Dingwall train station on a snowy winter's night as she arrived home from the Scottish Parliament.

Kate Forbes MSP explained: "The essentials required for a minimum standard of living is the same for rural and urban residents – food, clothes and fuel. But the costs are much, much higher.

"An HIE study in 2013 estimated that it cost households in remote, rural Scotland about 10 to 40 per cent more to achieve the basic standard of living. It was above 40 per cent for island residents.

"That is because of the higher prices for food, clothes and groceries, the increased charges of fuel and the travel costs that are slapped on to every trip.

"Whatever the reason, we are ignoring the stark reality of Highland poverty."

The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch continued: "Half of households in rural Scotland are in fuel poverty.

"The truly startling statistic is that over a fifth of households in remote, rural Scotland are in 'extreme fuel poverty' (spending more than 20 per cent of all income, including housing benefit or income support on heating and cooking).

"Add the higher costs of housing into the mix, and the generally poorer, older condition of most housing stock and you can see why somebody on an average income would be hard-pressed to make ends meet."

Kate Forbes MSP concluded: "Highland poverty isn't always sleeping on the station for all to see; its huddled in a cold home or isolated and lonely for lack of transport or its choosing between a bit of heat or something to eat.

"It is there, whether you can see it or not.

"And it is about time that this stark reality shaped welfare policies and retailers' pricing and our sense of neighbourliness."