THIS week is Challenge Poverty Week 2021, a week of action created by the Poverty Alliance designed to highlight that poverty is a problem we can solve and to showcase solutions we can all get behind. 

In East Lothian, 1,321 households are living amongst the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation’s (SIMD) top 10 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland; 4,783 households live amongst the SIMD’s top 20 per cent most deprived areas. Up to 30 per cent of East Lothian children live in poverty and the latest available figures highlight that 15,000 households across our county are in fuel poverty.

In my new role as MSP for East Lothian, it has become abundantly clear that poverty, while highly concentrated in the western towns in our county, is an issue which affects the whole of our county.

The true extent of poverty in East Lothian, and indeed across Scotland, is deeply concerning. At a time when more and more families enter poverty, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic, we should all be taking steps to lift families out of poverty – not drop them even deeper into it.

The UK Government, however, does not seem to agree with this standpoint – far from it. On Monday, Ofgem’s energy price cap increased by 12 per cent. Typical default energy bills are set to increase by £139 per year and customers who use prepayment meters will see a £153 rise.

With 15,000 households already living in fuel poverty in East Lothian alone, families will be plunged even deeper into poverty and new households are no doubt set to enter poverty this coming winter – which has been described as going to be the most challenging winter on record – as the energy price increase takes effect.

This, coupled with the £20 Universal Credit uplift that came into effect on Wednesday and the increase in National Insurance deductions, will cause immense, immediate and avoidable hardship for people across East Lothian.

This is the very opposite of challenging poverty. Rather, it is the creation, reinforcement and maintenance of poverty.

This Challenge Poverty Week, I am pleading with the UK Government to act; to put support in place for those living in fuel poverty as energy prices soar; to reverse the Universal Credit uplift; and to stand up for the millions of people across the UK living in poverty.