IN recent weeks I have seen a vast upswing in the number of constituents who come to my office looking for help relating to social security benefits.

This happens every so often – it seems the Department for Work and Pensions have gotten their act together and stopped mistreating people, then one morning their latest batch of letters are delivered and you realise they were just having a rest from being cruel rather than fixing the behaviour permanently.

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In the past few weeks I have been approached by constituents who have been waiting more than a year to be assessed for Employment and Support Allowance, constituents who were denied Personal Independence Payments that are vital to their wellbeing, constituents who have been given conflicting advice about which benefits they should be claiming for, and constituents who are trapped in the mess that is the process of appealing an incorrect decision.

The good news is, normally my staff and I are able to help. However, it is reasonable to think that the number of constituents who make it to my office are only a small fraction of the people being mistreated by the DWP.

You have to presume that the number of people who simply give up and go without when they receive unfair decisions from the DWP, rather than trying to fight their way through the appeals process is huge.

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The safety net of social security is supposed to be there for everyone when they need it most but listening to what my constituents have gone through and continue to go through, it seems the system as it stands is user hostile, designed to confuse and lacking vital advice and support.

That is not to say that there aren’t people out there trying to help. Citizens Advice and other advocacy organisations do their best to assist people.

Advice Works in my constituency do a really brilliant job helping people apply for the correct benefits, appeal wrong decisions, and explain things clearly. But even they find themselves struggling to keep up with demand.

You will likely already know that as part of the Scotland Act 2016 a number of benefits are being devolved to the Scottish Parliament. These include one of the two benefits that I receive the biggest number complaints about from my constituents – PIP.

Setting up the infrastructure for these benefits is a huge undertaking, and from the get-go the Scottish Government committed to building a social security system that placed people’s dignity at the centre, working from a place of respect. Part of this process has been setting up a number of experience panels.

The experience panels are an opportunity for people who work with or access the current UK social security system to share their thoughts with the Scottish Government as they go ahead building the new Scottish system.

The results of the experience panels have made it clear that the current system has problems from top to bottom, with a majority of people rating it as “poor” or “very poor”.

One respondent said, “the current system sets claimants up to fail at every stage”, and from my experience with my own constituents, that is a very fair description.

Another person described their experience of trying to get help to appeal the decision was made about their application: “the two women I spoke to (one was a senior manager) both actively tried to deter me from challenging the award”. Another described their experience when taking their application to the tribunal stage of appeal: “the judge at the tribunal ‘warned’ me that they had some info that could result in me losing the entire award including the ‘care element’ but would only tell me what that was if I went ahead of the Tribunal”.

Unfortunately, these are not just a few examples of serious mistakes in the system – they are example of a hugely worrying pattern in the current social security system.

The Scottish Government is committed to fixing the lack of advice and support for claimants is its top priority for improvement, and it has also committed to keeping private companies such as Atos out of medical assessments, and that is very welcome news.

The Scottish Social Security system is setting up to become yet another example of how we can do things differently when the policies that affect the people of Scotland are taken out of the hands of the callous Tories in Westminster.