CHRISTIAN campaigners have been looking beyond the General
Election at issues that persistently concern ordinary citizens,
such as the treatment of asylum-seekers and the pay of care
In the last days of campaigning, senior politicians, among them
Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, were confronted by voters who demanded
"straight answers to the questions we are posing".
Citizens UK staged an assembly in the Methodist Central Hall,
Westminster, on Monday, attracting an audience of more than 2000.
The fudges, equivocation, and prevarication that had typified the
election campaign would not work here. A yes or no answer was
required to the demands in the community organisers' manifesto.
This approach was enforced by the company the politicians kept
on the stage, which included people directly affected by the
parties' policies on specific issues.
A man detained for ten months described being "chained to bed
like a dog. People took photos on their phones." While a choir sang
"Let my people go", a lone parent described the "sinking feeling of
shame and distress" she felt after taking out a loan from a payday
lender to buy new shoes for her daughter.
"I work full time, but I do not have enough money to live on,"
said a carer on the minimum wage. "My children ask for simple
things, but I will always say no. Do you know how it feels as a
parent to say no to a sweet? I am caring for other people's
families, but I do not have enough to care for mine."
Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport,
representing the Conservatives, refused to agree to a time-limit on
detention. It was "arbitrary", he argued, and could encourage
people to "delay and frustrate" the system.
At this point he was confronted, politely but powerfully, by
Zrinka Bralo, who described arriving in the UK after escaping
genocide in Bosnia, sleeping with acid by her side in case her
attackers caught her. When she arrived in the '90s, 300 people were
detained each year. Now it was 30,000. "Would you not agree that we
need to sort this out?"
It was not all brickbats. Nick Clegg was thanked by the son of
Waldemar, a cleaner in Whitehall, who had been helped by the
Liberal Democrat leader after his hours were cut as a punishment
for speaking out about low pay.
"He has taught me if something is wrong, that I should never
keep quiet," said 13-year-old Ventura of his father. "That I should
show what is really happening behind the shadows."
Mr Clegg was able to give his agreement to many of the group's
demands, including a national accreditation scheme for carers, an
end to indefinite detention, and paying the Living Wage to everyone
in central-government departments and their agencies by next year.
The pay of carers was at the discretion of local authorities,
however, who were, he admitted, being pressed to find "further
Mr Miliband, in addition to pledging to end indefinite
detention, vowed to end the "scandal" of 15-minute care visits. He
would "seek to move towards the agenda you have set out", including
higher wages in the sector. "It is one of the most important roles
in our society, and frankly we do not value it enough."