THE number of children living in poverty has increased in East Lothian following the introduction of Universal Credit, it has been revealed.

East Lothian Council says Universal Credit (UC) has had a “profound” effect on families across the county.

The local authority has witnessed an increase in in-work poverty, foodbank referrals and cases being presented to children’s services since the new single benefit was introduced.

A new report into Child Poverty in East Lothian reveals that the number of youngsters living in poverty increases in areas where more families are relying on the benefit.

And it said that a “significant number” of families were experiencing in-work poverty, which meant they needed Universal Credit payments to top up their low incomes.

The report includes quotes from parents struggling to cope, with one revealing: “I had no energy to walk the kids to school and it was hard to focus at work.

“For the school October holiday club I had no money to give the kids for a snack.

“They went and asked other children for something and I felt awful.”

East Lothian MP Martin Whitfield said that it was time for Universal Credit to be scrapped.

He said: “This report confirms what many of us said would happen following the introduction of Universal Credit and the negative impact we saw as it was piloted in East Lothian.

"The Government refused to listen and have railroaded through this ill-conceived new system which is causing significant hardship for many families.

“It’s time for UC to be scrapped, austerity ended and for governments to make fighting poverty a priority.”

The report, produced by East Lothian Council and NHS Lothian, said there was no doubt the introduction of UC, which was piloted in the county in 2016 and replaced a range of benefits with a single payment, had an impact.

Overall, an estimated 17 per cent of children in East Lothian are living in poverty.

The report looks at child poverty across the county, with a wide gap between some communities.

In North Berwick Coastal ward, it was estimated just over 11.5 per cent of children were living in poverty after housing costs were taken into account, compared to 26.17 per cent in Musselburgh East and Carberry.

It revealed that last year, East Lothian Foodbank fed 2,014 children, while nearly one in 10 primary school pupils was entitled to a clothing grant, with 9.5 per cent of P4 to S6 youngsters entitled to a free school meal.

Demand for children’s services increased by eight per cent last year and a wide range of initiatives have been introduced and highlighted in the report, from holiday lunch clubs to community kitchens.

The report said: “On average, one in five children in East Lothian is living in poverty after housing costs are taken into account; in some areas this rises to one in four.

“East Lothian is forecast to grow at one of the fastest rates of all 32 local authorities in Scotland. The number of 0-15-year-olds is projected to increase by 27.5 per cent between 2012 and 2037.”

Councillor Shamin Akhtar, cabinet spokesperson for children’s services said: “It is shameful that in this day and age there are one in five children in East Lothian living in poverty.

“Too many local children are growing up in homes without enough food, the ability to take part in activities or the living conditions and amenities which are the norm for most households in 21st-century Scotland.

“This report underlines the vital importance of properly funding local public services to support children and families in poverty.”

Iain Gray, East Lothian MSP, said the statistics were “shocking”.

An East Lothian Council spokesperson said: “The introduction of Universal Credit has had a profound effect on the finances of many East Lothian households.

“We have seen the impacts across a number of council and partner services – a rise in presentations to children’s services, an increase in rent arrears, more referrals being made to East Lothian Foodbank, and greater levels of in-work poverty.

“All of these measures point to a correlation between the introduction of Universal Credit and an increase in levels of poverty, and child poverty in particular.

“We are working across our area with partners including the voluntary sector to raise awareness of the issues and challenges our communities face, and to find ways to support and address them.

“This includes funding for projects through our area partnerships to tackle poverty and inequalities, encouraging take-up of free school meals, changing the criteria for school uniform allowance to widen access, and raising awareness of national initiatives such as the Scottish Government’s Best Start grants.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this Government. Absolute poverty is lower than it was in 2010: there are more people in work than ever before, and wages continue to outpace inflation.

“But we know some families need more support, which is why we continue to spend £95 billion a year on working-age benefits.

“With Universal Credit, people can get paid urgently if they need it and we’ve changed the system so people can receive even more money in the first two weeks than under the old system.

“Meanwhile, Scotland has significant welfare powers, including flexibilities within Universal Credit and the power to top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits altogether.”