IN a previous column I mentioned that I was fortunate to be number six in the draw for submitting a Private Member's Bill and said that I would inform readers of The National once I knew what I would focus on. However, as you will all be aware, there have been a couple of important developments in recent weeks which have attracted my attention.

First there was the EU referendum vote, which could result in Scotland – despite voting 62 per cent to remain in the EU – being dragged out due to votes elsewhere in the UK. Then there was also last week’s Chilcot Report, which outlined the disastrous decision by Tony Blair and his followers to drag the country into an illegal war, resulting in the deaths of UK service personnel as well as the huge amount of human suffering inflicted on Iraq and the surrounding area.

However, back to my Private Member's Bill. As you will know from my previous column, I was faced with the dilemma of putting forward a populist bill that may not go far, or to try to come forward with something more pragmatic that would stand a better chance of being passed.

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I consulted widely, with both colleagues in the parliamentary group and the wider party, as well as inviting local constituents and organisations to come forward with ideas. After assessing them all, the proposal I am taking forward is to do something about tackling the indignity of the benefit sanctions regime. In particular, addressing the situation where someone can be sanctioned so heavily that they have no income left to feed themselves or their family, in effect becoming destitute through the actions of the state.

We’ve all seen the traumatic stories in the newspapers and online about the impact the benefits regime is having, not just on benefit claimants but also their families. Some of the reasons given for sanctions have included: l Missing an appointment because your wife went into premature labour and had to go to hospital; l Failing to complete a job search form saying you were looking for jobs advertised on Christmas Day, l Being in hospital after being run over in a traffic accident, l Being unable to afford to pay for travel to a workfare scheme you were been placed on; l Having a heart attack while completing a work capability assessment; l Missing a DWP appointment because of attending a parent’s funeral; l Attending a job interview at the same time as you were meant to be signing on, and failing to attend a job interview as it clashed with the time you sign on.

The way the sanctions process is applied to claimants can be barbaric, with staff claiming they have no leeway and must issue sanctions.

Paisley Job Centre in my constituency had the third highest number of sanctions in the whole of Scotland. I’ve since visited the job centre and have spoken to DWP staff both there and in London, and I’m pleased to say that the number of sanctions has decreased but there is still more to do.

If we must have a sanctions regime, it can’t be one in which there is no discretion for staff or one that imposes such strict sanctions that claimants – and their families – are left penniless and destitute.

Ideally I would prefer a more compassionate social security system which looks after people in need rather than punishing them. However, such a bill would be blocked at the earliest opportunity by the Tories. Therefore, the bill I am putting forward aims to limit the impact that benefit sanctions would have on individuals and their families.

This bill will have its Second Reading in December and, if passed, would establish a code of conduct and official procedure for implementing a benefit sanction and seek to end the discrepancies between different sanction regimes – ensuring a fairer system of sanctions for everyone who uses the social security system. This would mean an individual’s circumstances would be taken into account and ensure a set of rules and guidelines must be followed before a sanction can be implemented.

For example, if a single parent cannot attend an appointment at 8.45am on a weekday, my Bill aims to introduce some formal code of conduct pointing out that between the hours of 7am and 9am, a single parent will clearly be getting their children to school and therefore discretion should be shown and the individual should not be sanctioned.

At the moment, job centres do have the power of discretion and can decide to excuse an individual from a sanction at that time. However, this is completely at the will of whoever happens to be dealing with a person. We can see there is a disparity between the different benefit sanction regimes that different job centres across the country are implementing.

While some job centres already have fair and compassionate sanctions regimes that take into account the individual’s circumstances and the negative impact that sanctions could have, others implement sanctions with less consideration of the circumstances and consequences, which is a particular concern for vulnerable groups including single parents.

Therefore, my bill will seek to end that by introducing a formal document that job centres must refer to before a sanction is implemented, as opposed to simply having "guidance" from the DWP.

My bill, the Benefit Claimants Sanctions (Required Assessment) Bill 2016-17, was introduced a few weeks ago and has already won cross-party support from, among others, Tory MP Andrew Percy, Labour veteran Dennis Skinner, Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville-Roberts, Green MP Caroline Lucas, and my 54 SNP colleagues. This is important: for the bill to have any chance of success it will need as much support as possible from both sides of the chamber.

This bill will introduce a process of assessing a benefit claimant’s circumstances before sanctioning them, in the hope that it will reduce this cold practice and make the system at least slightly fairer for all who use it.

I believe the benefit sanctions process can be very impersonal. I have seen first-hand the terrible effects unfair sanctions have had on the lives of many constituents and I am grateful to have an opportunity to try and deliver a very real change for those who continue to be affected. This is a pragmatic attempt to address a serious issue and, if passed, will help to alleviate the excesses of the current process.

My bill will be debated on December 2, and I will be putting every effort into ensuring it passes.