NEARLY 5,000 children are living in poverty in East Lothian – a rise of nearly four per cent in the last five years.

A report published by the End Child Poverty campaign has recorded the percentage of child poverty in the county at more than 26 per cent – higher than Edinburgh or Midlothian.

Based on Westminster constituency data, researchers said the latest figures, which were for 2018/19 and compiled before the pandemic, were a rise from 2014/15 figures of 22.3 per cent of children living in poverty.

While more than one in four children in East Lothian were living below the poverty line at 26.2 per cent, in neighbouring Midlothian the percentage barely changed over the same five years, remaining at 21 per cent, and across Edinburgh’s five constituencies the highest was just under 23 per cent.

East Lothian MP Kenny MacAskill described the latest report as “very worrying”.

He said: “There are areas of great affluence in the county but, as these statistics show, also of deep-rooted poverty that impinges on the life chances of so many young people, blighting their existence and restricting their opportunities.

“That so much is happening within our midst is simply wrong.  We have to do more and do it better, as this is before the real economic cost of coronavirus is showing through.

“Government has the primary role, but we all need to do more for those most vulnerable within our communities.”

And Iain Gray, East Lothian MSP, who has already called on the local authority to reintroduce the East Lothian Poverty Commission to look into the impact of the pandemic on families already under pressure, pointed to Universal Credit as a major factor.

East Lothian was the first local authority area to roll out the new digital Universal Credit programme as a pilot in 2016, sparking huge rent arrears and problems for families as delays in receiving the new payments sparked debt and loans.

Mr Gray said: “Despite the best efforts of the local council, East Lothian is not immune from the effects of the calamitous Universal Credit, years of austerity and cuts to funding for local services which are driving up poverty levels here and elsewhere.

“This report shows how important it is for governments at both Scottish and UK level to focus on lifting children and families out of poverty rather than obsessing about constitutional questions.

“Too many children are being failed by government policies, with more now growing up in poverty than five years ago.”