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Deliver on your promises, campaigners demand

08 May 2015


Last round: Nick Clegg at Banner Cross Methodist Church, Sheffield

Last round: Nick Clegg at Banner Cross Methodist Church, Sheffield

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 workers.

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 savings".

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."

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