ON FRIDAY I had the privilege of being the second ever SNP Member of Parliament to move a Private Member’s Bill. This was a historic occasion and one that I did not want to waste by putting up a Bill that was merely posturing. That is why I chose to try to limit the impact of sanctions on benefit claimants.

My Bill aimed to introduce a code of conduct for all jobcentres across the UK, making it compulsory that jobcentre staff take a claimant’s personal circumstances into account before issuing a sanction. This would include considering whether a claimant is at risk of homelessness, whether they have caring responsibilities or even if they have a mental health condition that could be worsened if their benefits were to be sanctioned.

The amount of sanctions applied to benefit claimants is staggering. In the past year alone over 400,000 benefit claimants were subjected to sanctions. To put this into some context, the NAO report revealed that about 24 per cent of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants received a sanction between 2010 and 2015 and that the rate of sanctions varies widely from one area to another.

However, this doesn’t reveal the personal hardship that claimants face when they are sanctioned or the reasons for some of the sanctions. Most of those who have been sanctioned have to turn to local food banks to feed themselves and their families. In areas like my constituency, where there is a high level of sanctions, there is also a high use of food banks. Only this week my local council provided the local food bank with an additional £14,500 to help pay for public transport for food-bank users. We are now living in a time where food-bank users can’t even get to the help they need without additional support to access public transport: that is shameful.

During the debate on my Bill – and in earlier debates – we’ve heard how lone parents missed their signing on date as they were taking their child to school were sanctioned, and we’ve heard of claimants missing their signing on date as they were at their parent’s death bed – but still the sanctions continue.

The NAO report also highlighted that the use of sanctions is linked “as much to management priorities and to local staff discretion as it is to claimants’ behaviour”.

The same report also revealed that sanctions cost £153 million more than they actually save. According to this report, the Tory Government spends £285m enforcing sanctions but only £132m is saved through sanctions.

The consultation on my Bill received over 9,000 responses – with 98 per cent of respondents supporting its aims. The Bill has also been supported from a range of individuals and organisations including SAMH, Citizens Advice Scotland, the Child Poverty Action Group and more recently by the award-winning film director Ken Loach. During my speech I made reference to his excellent film, I, Daniel Blake – which I would strongly recommend everyone to watch. Even jobcentre staff who I talked to when drafting this Bill were in favour of it.

However, no matter what level of support I had from the public the key to getting this bill passed was to get as much support as possible from MPs. That is why I made the Bill as consensual as possible.

Although I personally think the sanctions system is abhorrent and would abolish it in a heartbeat, that is not what my Bill was about. It was about limiting the impact of sanctions on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

This is the reason the limited support that arrived from Labour was disappointing. Those who did show up, however, added much to the debate and for that I am grateful.

However, limited Labour was nothing compared to the tactics employed by the dozen or so Tory MPs who turned up for the debate. It appears it was beyond the capability of the Tory MPs to actually read the Bill that they were meant to be debating. Time after time both myself and other colleagues had to remind them of the purpose of the Bill; that of limiting the impact of sanctions on some of the most vulnerable members of society.

It was clear that the Tories were orchestrating a campaign to talk out the Bill, to make sure that it would go no further and to continue the heartless, uncaring sanctions system for the foreseeable future.

The benefit sanctions regime is deeply flawed, there is too much variation on how sanctions are applied and, as has been highlighted in the NAO report, sanctions cost more than they save.

I was trying to be realistic with the aims of my Bill. I knew simply proposing to scrap the whole sanctions mess wouldn’t get anywhere in Parliament, so what I was looking for was something more limited but that still had the chance to help benefit claimants.

It was to build on good practice that is happening in some jobcentres where advisers look at the circumstances of an individual before a referral for a sanction. This Bill would have ensured that this happened across the board and protect the most vulnerable against falling into poverty due to benefit sanctions. But even that was too much for a Tory government who obviously sent their MPs out to scupper the Bill.