RESIDENTS gathered to quiz Mid Worcestershire’s Parliamentary candidates at a hustings on Monday (April 20).
The event – at Droitwich Methodist Centre – featured Conservative candidate Nigel Huddleston, Labour’s Robin Lunn, Liberal Democrat Margaret Rowley, UKIP’s Richard Keel and Green Party candidate Neil Franks.
One of the opening questions was about the number of people using foodbanks. The candidates were asked what they would do to eradicate the need for foodbanks.
Mr Franks said the Green Party would work towards a ‘living wage’ that they would aim to have at £10-per-hour by 2020.
He added they would also crack down on tax evasion and tax havens to pay for the increases.
Mr Huddleston said a lot of work had already been done to improve people’s financial situations, including increasing the minimum wage, which would be £6.70-per-hour by the autumn and £8 by the end of the next Parliament. He also said his Government had taken more people out of paying tax by raising the personal allowance threshold to £12,500.
Mrs Rowley pointed out – in its role in the coalition – it was a Liberal Democrat policy to raise the income tax threshold.
And she added. “It’s shocking to see foodbanks are being used in this age – they belong in the 19th century.”
She added that hopefully, with the rise of employment and the introduction of Universal Credit, the situation would improve but accepted it would take time.
Mr Keel said UKIP – which had a fully costed and fully audited manifesto – would increase the threshold further meaning people would have to be earning £13,500 before they had to pay income tax.
He also earned the first round of applause of the evening by stating the party would put independent advisors in every foodbank to help those using them out of the situations they were in.
And Mr Lunn pledged three ways to move towards reducing the need for foodbanks – increasing the minimum wage, working towards a ‘living wage’ and outlawing zero hours contracts.
“The sad thing is that a lot of people who use them are in full-time work,” he added.
One issue the candidates clashed on was the NHS.
Mr Franks said the Green Party criticised ‘back door privatisation’ of the NHS, saying the health service needed to be returned to the state, citing Caroline Lucas’ campaign for an NHS Reinstatement Bill.
Mr Huddleston said: “I’m tired of the NHS being used as a political football.”
He said he was proud of the NHS and what it achieves, adding the Conservatives had increased spending on the NHS and would continue to do so.
Mr Keel said UKIP believed the health service should be managed by local health boards and people who worked in the system.
He added his party would do away with university tuition fees for medical students so local people could be trained to work in local hospitals.
Mr Lunn said he was surprised that after all had gone on in the county, the Secretary of State had not taken Worcestershire hospitals under government control.
Mrs Rowley said she disagreed and the Worcestershire problem needed to be dealt with using a Worcestershire solution.
She added the acute trust needed to deal with acute patients, not those who needed social care.
The candidates were asked whether they felt they were doing enough to inspire first time voters to head to the polls.
Mr Franks said the Green Party had the biggest youth party in the country, saying he was doing everything he could to encourage young people to vote.
Mr Huddleston said he felt the turn-out would be over 70 per cent and that he would be disappointed if the turn-out amongst young people was low.
He urged everyone in the room to encourage everyone they knew – especially young people – to vote in this election.
And he said the Scottish referendum showed that if people cared about what they were voting on, they would vote.
Mr Lunn pointed out one of Labour’s policies would be to give those aged 16 and 17 the vote.
“I would say to young people if you vote for me, great, but if you don’t vote for me, please vote for someone.”
Mr Keel said: “Politics in this country are very narrow minded.”
He said a lot of people felt the main parties were too close together and saying the same things.
“Thank God we have UKIP,” he added.
He said his party had what they called ‘the Heineken effect’.
“We are reaching the voters other parties can’t reach.”
Another question asked was on the subject of affordable housing.
Mr Lunn said: “We do need to build houses – but they need to be in the right place where we can get the right
He also said that 40 per cent affordable housing needed to be agreed on each development, but also what ‘affordable’ meant.
“One person’s affordable is another person’s way out of line.”
Mr Franks said the Green Party had pledged to build 500,000 low carbon and environmentally friendly homes.
“With a living wage and low energy costs, people will be able to save and afford to buy their own homes.”
Mr Huddleston said half of people wanted to see more new homes and the other half said they did not.
He added there needed to be a focus on brownfield sites and that empty properties needed to be brought back so they could be managed by local councils.
Mr King said UKIP had proposed to build 1million homes on brownfield sites and he added it was important to prioritise local homes for local people.
He spoke about the effect of immigration on the issue, saying building 200,000-homes-a-year had being mooted, but
300,000 people were moving to the UK each year.
“If you let that many people in, you will need to build more houses.”
Mrs Rowley pointed out there wasn’t enough brownfield sites for all the homes needed.
She lambasted the ‘lack of a long-term plan’, saying one of the problems was homes being built too far away from the town centre.
She also urged residents to have a neighbourhood plan so local people could choose where local homes were built.
A member of the public said a time limit needed to be put on affordable housing because homes that were built as affordable were disappearing into the general housing stock.
Mrs Rowley hit out at the ‘right to buy’ scheme, giving an example of a home in her ward which, she said, was bought on the right to buy scheme and was then privately rented out.
She said that needed to be stopped and affordable housing needed to be managed by housing associations.
Mr Huddleston said he believed when a home was sold on right to buy, the cash should be used towards creating
another affordable home. He said he was disappointed that had not happened under the current Government, but said
from now on that would be the case.
* What do you think about the issues raised at the hustings?