WELFARE campaigners are calling on the Scottish Government to intervene to protect people affected by benefit sanctions, after it was revealed that the UK Government admits cutting payments harms their health.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) publishes guidance to the job centre officials who decide whether claimants should have their payments stopped.

The rules appear to state that doing so for even two weeks will "usually" damage the claimant's health. Some sanctions last longer than this, or are effectively indefinite.

The Black Triangle Campaign, which lobbies for the rights of disabled people, said the guidelines were appalling and a "perversion" of discrimination laws, while a child poverty campaigner said they were beyond belief.

In a section dealing with vulnerable people, officials termed decision makers (DMs) are advised to consider whether the vulnerable person's health would be harmed more than the average person.

The guidance says: "It would be usual for a normal healthy adult to suffer some deterioration in their health if they were without: 1. essential items such as food, clothing, heating and accommodation, or 2. sufficient money to buy essential items for a period of two weeks."

A vulnerable person is one who would suffer more than this, it suggests, adding: "The DM must decided if the health of the person with the medical condition would decline more than a normal healthy adult."

John McArdle, of the Black Triangle Campaign, said: "What decent civilised person would look at that and be anything other than utterly appalled by it?

"Even if it were acceptable, we believe DMs are not qualified to make these sort of judgements."

Benefits policy is reserved to Westminster, but the group have met Scottish housing and welfare minister Margaret Burgess to discuss their concerns.

"Sanctions are a public health crisis and health is devolved," Mr McArdle added."We are trying to persuade the Scottish Government to legislate to protect people. We also feel they could do more to educate family doctors about the issues of disabled people falling through the net and being sanctioned.

"We want primary care to step up to the plate and flag up to the DWP when sanctions are putting people at substantial risk."

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland (CPAG), said: "It is almost beyond belief that official DWP guidance explicitly recognises that sanctions will cause deterioration to health but that that deterioration in itself is not enough to demonstrate hardship or vulnerability.

"Such a punitive approach does nothing to support people back to work and everything to further damage their life chances."

Mr Dickie said Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith should review the "punitive and damaging" system, but backed calls for Scottish politicians to do more to mitigate the effects of sanctions on vulnerable people.

A spokeswoman for the DWP said the guidelines did not mean that the department accepted sanctions would usually harm people's health. However, asked for an alternative interpretation she said she was unable to provide one.

She added: "The vast majority of those on benefits do the right thing by looking for work, however the small percentage who refuse to do so risk a reduction to their benefits. People can apply for hardship payments if they need extra support.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We know the current sanctions regime isn’t working and we support the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee call for a full and independent review of the system.

"It is clear from the evidence we have and from reports produced by a whole range of stakeholders that people are hurt by this punitive sanctions system, including lone parents, young people and disabled people and now the DWP appear to be admitting this.

“Following Mrs Burgess’s meeting with the Black Triangle Disability Rights Campaign we are considering how best to support GPs in helping patients that are at risk of sanctions.”

It comes as new figures have revealed that a high proportion of sanctions are wrongly imposed, with half of those who challenge them proving successful on appeal. Since the new regime was instituted in October 2012, some 575,901 sanctions have been challenged, of which 285,327 were overturned.