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Candidates and chair Simon Elliot at the Alternative Hustings 

Yesterday, Sunday 4 June, we held our Alternative General Election Hustings hosted by our friends at Northern Stage. The format of the afternoon was different from the usual hustings format because it was for voluntary and community organisations rather than individual voters. Therefore a few weeks ago we asked NCVS members to tell us, from a list of twelve, what their top four election issues are?

The top issues, selected were mental health, inequality and welfare reform, employment and work and young people. The topics would be explored in four separate workshops, led by local experts, at the beginning of the hustings event.  

The workshops were asked to agree two questions to put to candidates when everyone gathered together for the second part of hustings. As might be expected discussion in the workshops stretched beyond the group’s core issue; mental health and welfare reform featured at some point in all of the workshop discussions.

Discussion in the young people’s group’s revolved around how each party (Conservative, Green, Labour, Lib Dem and UKIP) would support existing services for young people but also protect and increase funding to those services. The working group also discussed how each political party could ensure that public services would work in collaboration with young people and the services provided for them.

The group, which included a large number of young people from Newcastle YMCA’s Space 2, discussed too the issues and challenges of providing support for people with non-physical disabilities or mental health issues and physical health and wanted to test the candidates knowledge and responses (about which they seemed unimpressed).

The working group on inequality and welfare reform took the position that welfare benefits are a right (asking during the hustings whether the candidates agreed and prompting an outbreak of heckling when one candidate challenged the assumption that there had been an increase in inequality in the North East).

For the group looking at employment and work, the lack of support for people with disabilities looking for work was a key issue. Also highlighted were the barriers put up by the benefits system preventing people with disabilities from gaining experience through volunteering. The group we keen to find out the candidates plans for more effectively supporting people with disabilities into the workplace but also what were the party’s going to do to bring more businesses and industry into the region.

The mental health working group wanted to know what the party’s would do about waiting times and ensuring that treatment is available nearer home.

For more of a flavour of what was a lively and democratically engaging afternoon have a look at our tweets #VCSGE2017.