WHY it's time to end the scandal of terminally ill people suffering due to Universal Credit. Drew Hendry, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Terminal Illness and Inverness MP, calls for the Government to treat them with dignity and respect.

Having dealt with Universal Credit in the Highlands for more than six years, one of the most heart-breaking moments came around three years ago, as I sat in the office of the Citizens Advice Bureau in Inverness and learned that terminally ill people had joined the long list of people suffering the cruel Universal Credit system.

By that point, I was well used to dealing with people who, through no fault of their own, found themselves in debt by default because of Universal Credit, disabled people who had suddenly lost hundreds of pounds a month and the many others stuck in a system riddled with process failures, pushing their families into extreme hardship.

Similarly, our local CAB staff had vast experience in dealing with deprivation, vulnerability and challenging situations. They were, as you might say, hardened, experienced professionals. Yet, that morning they were in tears because of the trials faced by terminally ill clients of theirs.

They were heartbroken by the fact that terminally ill people – who had just been told they were dying – were forced to go to battle with the Department for Work and Pensions for paltry financial support.

And, if it wasn’t hard enough just to make a welfare support claim, the Universal Credit system also meant they had to prove their life would end within six months to access special assistance. Imagine that? The doctor tells you have a terminal condition, then, to qualify, you are supposed to ask them to place a bet on your remaining lifespan.

There can be few greater personal trials for an individual or their loved ones than to face a diagnosis or terminal illness. No matter how sensitively handled by the medical expert involved, the sheer impact of hearing those words will trigger a series of emotions, events and choices none of us would like to contemplate.

An arbitrary time of six months to live – that means nothing to these people. Surely, upon hearing the news that their condition is terminal, the very least they should expect is prompt and compassionate support from their government.

The trouble is, there isn’t a drop of compassion on offer at the DWP – leaving thousands of terminally ill people to navigate through an inflexible and thoughtless system, at the very time they should be cherishing every moment with their loved ones.

After all, they aren’t jumping through the welfare hoops through choice – for many it is a necessity to keep the roof over their head.

Then there are those who simply would have preferred not to know their terminal fate. Whereas an advocacy could complete forms in the past, under Universal Credit terminally ill people now need to personally tick a box on the claim form saying they are dying. What possible reason could there be to make this change?

I have used no less than three of my rarely won Prime Minister’s Questions to raise these issues with Theresa May. I led a debate exclusively on Universal Credit and terminal illness, and along with other MPs have written countless letters asking for change. From the Prime Minister to every DWP minister, these pleas have been ignored.

I have since set up a cross-party group on terminal illness at Westminster, and as a group of MPs we work with Marie Curie and others to try to improve the lives of people living with a terminal illness diagnosis.

As part of that work we recently heard testimony from Mark, who recalled his terminal bone cancer diagnosis as “when the nightmare with the DWP began”.

On top of trying to come to terms with his diagnosis, Mark was also subjected to, as he described, “endless form-filling, form after form, same questions, same answers” and the devastating news that because he didn’t have less than six months to live, he wasn’t classed as “terminally ill”, nor did he qualify for financial support.

Like too many others, Mark is trapped in a system that sounds cruel because it is cruel.

It needs to change, and we know it can be done. The Scottish Government has already confirmed it will rely on the judgment of doctors and clinicians with its limited new welfare powers over Personal Independence Payments. The UK Government can do the same for all other benefits and scrap the arbitrary six months rule and create a system that properly fast-tracks people with terminal illnesses.

From the moment a person hears the words from their doctor that they are terminally ill, their world has changed. In that instant, nothing for them or their families will ever be the same again. Suddenly, priorities shift, and they become acutely aware of every second as it passes.

These moments shouldn’t be spent fighting the DWP.

All they ask is to be treated with dignity and respect by their government and I, for one, won’t stop until they are.

Drew Hendry is SNP MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, and chairman of All-Party Parliamentary Group for Terminal Illness at Westminster.