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 today.

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Serena Pattaro, Nick Bailey and Marcia Gibson found while sanctions – where a claimant’s benefits are reduced or withdrawn because they have not met conditions – can help people move away from claiming, this comes at the expense of lower job quality and stability, lower earnings,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

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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.

“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.”

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

She added: “I hope it raises awareness of the wider impacts of benefit sanctions for claimants and for children and I would hope better consideration is placed on applying sanctions when we know depriving households of income may have a detrimental effect.”

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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: “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.”