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 has published her annual report, with this stressing 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.

It also 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 Chief Medical Officer’s 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.

“This highlights the importance of a secure household income and good work to mental health and wellbeing.”

While the report said there had been a “long-term decline in death rates in Scotland”, it added that “this decline in mortality has not in general been as rapid as the rest of the UK or other European countries”.

It noted the onset of multi-morbidity – when a person has multiple long-term health conditions – occurs on average 10 to 15 years earlier in people living in the most deprived areas of Scotland compared to the most affluent.

The report called for more action to be taken to encourage smokers to quit, with 10,000 deaths a year – about a fifth of all fatalities – and 120,000 hospital admissions linked to smoking.

It said Scotland “has made great progress in protecting people, especially children, from the harms of tobacco smoke and in smoking prevention”, with smoking levels among school children now at an all-time low.

It added: “Greater emphasis is now needed in encouraging more smokers to quit.

“The challenge is to get more smokers to seek support from NHS stop-smoking services – where their likelihood of success is more than doubled compared to trying to quit without support.”