BENEFIT sanctions introduced by the UK Government may have had an “adverse impact” on the mental health of the poorest Scots, a new report by the country’s chief medical officer has said.

Scotland’s top doctor Catherine Calderwood published her annual report, which stressed the need to “truly improve health and reduce inequalities”.

It told how Scotland “would be one of the healthiest countries in Europe” if everyone enjoyed the same level of health as those living in the most affluent areas, and warned of the “potential adverse impact on mental health” of the introduction of sanctions to the benefits system.

The Scottish Health Survey has gathered data on anxiety levels among adults since 2008.

“Examination of these data before and after the new welfare sanctions regime were introduced indicate a potential adverse impact on mental health,” the report said.

“Among adults living in households in receipt of job seeker’s allowance (JSA) or income support (IS) in 2008-11 (before the change), 19 per cent had moderate to severe anxiety symptoms.

“Among those in a similar position in 2013-15 (after the change), the proportion was 30 per cent. Adults living in households not receiving JSA/IS, who were unlikely to be affected by these changes, showed only a minimal increase in anxiety symptoms over the same period.

“Together, these findings suggest that mental health has worsened in recent years amongst those most affected by economic and labour market insecurity, and by welfare reform.”

The report called for more action in encouraging smokers to quit, but said “great progress” had been made.

And while there was a long-term decline in death rates, it was not as rapid as in the rest of the UK or other European countries.