Hundreds of thousands of families in the UK are being pushed into misery and financial hardship as a result of the Government’s “hostile environment” towards benefit claimants, says the UK’s largest union Unite.

Unite is calling on the UK Government to halt the roll-out of its flagship Universal Credit scheme, before even more poor and vulnerable people are plunged further into poverty.

The union highlights recent research by the Economic and Social Research Council, which found that “benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek or enter paid work”, and “routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes”.

According to Unite, the number of sanctions imposed against Universal Credit claimants is much higher than for other benefits – mainly due to problems in claiming the new benefit and missing job centre appointments because of not hearing about it in time.

Unite also claim that payment delays and housing support payments not being made directly to landlords is causing rent arrears and placing people at risk of eviction.

Figures also show a 50% increase in the number of people turning to food banks in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled-out.

A report into the impact of Universal Credit by The Trussell Trust network found that 92% of claimants believe payments are insufficient to cover daily living costs, and 57% have experienced mental or physical health problems.

Liane Groves, Head of Unite Community said: “Universal Credit is creating a hostile environment for people who claim it and is not fit for purpose and should be stopped.

“Despite knowing that Universal Credit causes serious problems for those claiming it the government is ploughing ahead regardless while claimants are descending further into debt, relying on food banks and getting into rent arrears and in many cases are being evicted from their homes.

“In order to claim Universal Credit claimants need an internet connection which many simply can’t afford.

“Unite is demanding a cut in the long waits to receive money, for people to be able to apply in job centres, not just online, better help for people when the system fails, landlords to be paid directly to avoid people getting into rent arrears and losing their homes, an end to benefit sanctions for people in and out of work.”

Unite will be holding a ‘National Day of Action against Universal Credit‘ on Thursday 24 May, to help raise awareness of who will be affected by Universal Credit, including over one million low-paid workers.

Universal Credit replaces a number of existing benefits and tax credits: child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance and working tax credit.

It is estimated that 7 million households will be affected by Universal Credit once it is fully rolled-out across the UK.