A COUNCILLOR has warned that Universal Credit, which is now fully in place in Clydebank, “risks forcing residents into the hands of unscrupulous money lenders” and described the new social security roll out as “unnecessarily cruel” in the lead up to Christmas.

In an impassioned speech to a full council meeting last Wednesday, SNP councillor Caroline McAllister tabled a motion as Universal Credit was being rolled out across West Dunbartonshire.

Cllr McAllister said: “Council notes with concern the Department of Work and Pensions’ intention to continue with the roll out of Universal Credit despite the numerous problems highlighted from areas who are piloting the changes to the Social Security system.

“People are being plunged into poverty, and food banks are reporting a significant increase in demand. Local authorities are seeing a spike in rent and council tax arrears and an increased demand on other services as a result of Universal Credit.

“To leave claimants without any form of income at any time is unacceptable but leading up to Christmas is unnecessarily cruel and risks forcing our residents into the hands of unscrupulous money lenders.

“This council calls on the leader, Councillor Jonathan McColl, to write again to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Amber Rudd, and request the roll out of this damaging and punitive policy does not go ahead until all problems are addressed and resolved.”

Agencies in West Dunbartonshire have been working together to minimise any hardship caused by the switch to the new system.

The new system has been met with widespread criticism in areas where it has already been launched.

Labour councillor Lawrence O’Neill said: "Universal Credit is targeting the poor.”

Despite the council’s cross party support for Cllr McAllister’s motion, Tory councillor Sally Page said: “Universal Credit is here to stay and I believe they should be allowed to implement the system smoothly rather than scare people.”

Her comments were met with an outcry of heckling from the public gallery and shouts of “shame” from Community Party councillor Jim Bollan.

Councillor McColl then asked Cllr Page: “Are you making an amendment against this? If not and it’s agreed you will be seen as being part of a unanimous front in agreement.

Labour group leader Councillor Martin Rooney added: “Councillor Page is trying to defend the indefensible.”

But Cllr Page did not table an amendment, and the motion was unanimously approved.