FRESH calls have been made for the UK Government to end a cover-up over a key report into the impact of benefit sanctions. 

Academics from Glasgow University will shed light on how benefit sanctions can tear families apart and cause long-term health problems at a Scottish Parliament debate on Thursday. 

The member's business debate – organised by Glasgow Kelvin MSP Kaukab Stewart – will see politicians discuss findings from a report which shows while there are short-term positive implications of sanctions, they also cause a variety of personal issues for both claimants and their children.

Researchers Serena Pattaro, Nick Bailey and Marcia Gibson found while sanctions – where a claimant’s benefits are reduced or withdrawn because they have not met conditions – can help people move away from claiming, this comes at the expense of lower job quality and stability, lower earnings, increased health problems, increased child maltreatment and poorer child wellbeing.

It comes after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) commissioned its own internal research in 2019 on the effectiveness of sanctions and promised to make the findings public.

But nearly three years later, it has emerged the department buried the report and refused requests for it to be released insisting it was in the “public interest” to keep the findings under wraps.

This was just as the DWP announced Universal Credit claimants would be forced to take up a job in any sector or face swift sanctions under a crackdown designed to fill hundreds of thousands of vacancies.

Stewart said: “I’m curious as to why it is the DWP is not releasing this data and telling us how many people have been sanctioned, to what extent, and how this had had a knock-on effect on other areas. What have they got to hide?”

Earlier this year, the DWP refused a Freedom of Information request from Glasgow University academic David Webster to release a copy of the report.

From looking at thousands of studies from the past two decades, academics even found it was more likely a child would enter foster care if their parents had been subjected to punishment for not meeting benefit requirements.

Having been a teacher for 30 years, Stewart added she was particularly heartbroken to hear children being taken away from their families because of the trauma and fear sanctions caused.

She told The National: “There are some benefits which are not subject to sanctions like child credit, but there are others where you can be sanctioned. For instance, if you get a reassessment of your income and then you don’t backdate it in time or the configuration is wrong, you can have you benefit withdrawn for anything from six months to three years.

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“That to me just seems excessive and punitive.

“I knew children would be affected but I didn’t realise you’ve got more chance of being taken into foster care if you’re in a family that’s had sanctions put on them. It’s leading to the break-up of families.

“Children then end up having poorer attendance, they become disenfranchised from the education system, because heating and food are going to be more important to you at that point.

“I was shocked at the extent of that. That was particularly heartbreaking for me to find out there’s a higher rate of children suffering from abuse and neglect because of sanctions.”

Pattaro said she hoped the debate would urge ministers to reconsider applying sanctions to households they already know are struggling for cash.

She added: “There have been many studies focusing on the labour market outcomes, looking for example at how people return to the labour market and what their earnings are. We found in the short-term there are positive impacts, in terms of encouraging people to exit benefits, but this comes at the expense of longer-term issues like lower quality of jobs, increased job insecurity and lower earnings.

“There was no previous systematic review of the evidence of the wider outcomes and what we found was increased material hardship, such as financial distress and food deprivation or insecurity, and poorer physical and mental health. We also found some evidence of poorer child well-being, increased foster care placement and behavioural problems. Evidence was pointing towards poorer attendance at school as well.

“I hope it raises awareness of the wider impacts of benefit sanctions for claimants and their children, and I would hope that more careful consideration is placed on applying sanctions when we know depriving households of income may have a detrimental effect.” 

The debate will ask the Parliament to note “with concern” the findings by academics and consider that this is “further evidence of what it sees as the ineffective and punitive nature of the sanctions regime in the UK which it considers negatively impacts people across Scotland”.

A DWP spokesman said: “With a record number of jobs available, it’s right that people who can work do take steps to prepare for employment and meet the expectations to which they’ve agreed. People will only be sanctioned if they fail to meet what they agreed to without a good reason.

“We agreed in principle to release the sanctions data to researchers but this required formal accreditation of the security of the facilities to be used to store the data, as well as legal approval. The UK Statistics Authority granted this accreditation in late 2021 and we are now actively considering the data request.”