AT SNP conference this weekend and for the last several months at Westminster, my focus is on what changes we can squeeze out of the Tory government that will help people during this time of escalating costs. Of course, I am conscious and constantly frustrated that it’s tinkering around the edges. What we need are wholesale changes but we’re only going to get those when we are independent.

So my job is twofold: it’s to get that message across to people ahead of a referendum and meantime, the second part, the tinkering, matters. If I get my way on even some of it, the impact on people’s lives will be massive. I know exactly how massive because it hasn’t been that long since I was living in a freezing flat with no heating because I couldn’t afford to fix my boiler. I will come on to explain why I think I must, as an MP, talk about my own lived experience.

In terms of the “tinkering”, if I can get the so-called “self disconnection” of prepayment meters outlawed and if I can get the eligibility deadline extended for pensioners to apply for Pension Credit and receive the £650 Cost of Living payment, that could make the difference that means those people may just be able to survive this winter.

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The system of support in the UK has traditionally enabled people not to live, rather it has enabled most – but not all – to simply survive. We are entering very different territory now and the numbers who simply can’t survive are, as things stand, going to increase. People will die. We cannot just accept that. We have to do every single thing we can to keep people alive and well.

My tinkering, if successful, won’t stop people from struggling but right now, MPs, MSPs and councillors along with our teams, advice agencies and others on the frontline in their communities are fighting simply to keep people alive. It’s that dramatic and it’s utterly sickening that we can live in an energy-rich, wealthy country, yet this is where we’re at. Just look at the report published in The National yesterday that said Scotland’s energy sector could create up to 385,000 jobs and boost our economy by £34 billion a year by 2050. It will only happen with independence but even now, in this UK system, some people are at a distinct disadvantage.

Take the issue of prepayment meters. We are not all equal. We’re just not. Some of us, as things stand, have more of a right to heat and light than others. And what gives us that right? The fact that we have more money to start with. Most people on prepayment meters are on low incomes and thus have a harder time paying their energy bills. So why do they pay more per unit of electricity? And why are their daily standing charges higher than mine? And why, when they are finding it difficult to pay, are they cut off almost immediately?

If I stop paying my bill just to be awkward (not because I can’t afford it), there is a process to go through before I am disconnected. It takes time and I have to be given opportunities to come to an agreement about how I will pay back what I owe.

If someone on a prepayment meter uses up the £10 emergency credit and goes over it by one single penny, they are cut off automatically. A debt of £10.01 can see someone go without heating and light. How can that be? Why should they be treated differently from everyone else?

I’ve never had a prepayment meter but I have been in terrifying situations where I’ve been unable to pay my bills and have been so cold it was painful. And I mean painful. My life is very different now in terms of finances so I wouldn’t dream of suggesting otherwise. But I was reminded of just how painful the cold can be in the last week when my boiler stopped working. I can pay to have it fixed so I’m very fortunate. Time is what I’m short of now so it took me a while. And that reminder was agony as the cold seeped into my bones.

When you’re cold over a long period, it’s not just painful, it’s hard to concentrate. Just think about children in that situation, going to school, having spent the previous night shivering. How can they focus on that massively important escape route, their education?

The reason I’m talking about my personal experiences is so that my constituents feel comfortable coming to me about similar matters. Many people are just too proud to ask for help including the people now in dire circumstances who have never had financial problems previously – it’s all new to them.

The idea of going to their MP and saying “can you help me?” will be very embarrassing for some. It would have been for me. I hope if they know that some of their MPs have been in similar situations, they’ll feel more comfortable about reaching out.

We need more MPs who have lived with the impact of governments’ policy decisions to be elected to fight for those who are living through it now. That’s why I’ll never pretend to be someone I’m not. I’m a working-class woman in a well-paid job, with influence and I will use that influence and the memories of past personal challenges to fight for others. Empathy is important and fortunately, many MPs have it but the value of empathy and understanding based on experience should never be underestimated.