Debate hears cuts hit vulnerable hardest

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The devastating impact of funding cuts on the most vulnerable members of society was the central theme of a pre-election debate.

Campaign group Don’t Cut Us Out organised the event at the Checkatrade.com Stadium on Monday (April 20).

Chaired by Crawley mayor Brenda Smith, the panel consisted of Parliamentary candidates Henry Smith and Chris Oxlade, Bishop of Horsham Mark Sowerby, Ahsan Ahmedi of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association and Margaret Guest, chair of the campaign group.

Resident Brian Walter questioned the panel about the “justice” of making funding cuts to healthcare.

Conservative Henry Smith informed the meeting the budget had actually increased over the past five years and said there were plans to pump £8bn into health and £5.3bn into social care.

Mrs Guest told him: “I think for those who are living with a disability or caring for some one with a disability, that extra funding doesn’t feel very real. It’s good to hear that more funding is promised but we can perhaps be forgiven for not really believing the funding promise is going to be there.”

As well as funding cuts, residents raised concerns about benefits sanctions which can see people losing Jobseeker’s Allowance upwards of four weeks for infractions as minor as being later for an interview.

One woman said her disabled daughter had her benefit cut with no notice and, not understanding what had happened, called her saying she was “bankrupt”.

She said: “She didn’t know why she had no money. All she knew was Sainsbury’s wasn’t going to deliver her food.”

Describing the sanctions as “terrible”, Labour’s Chris Oxlade said he had heard “heart-breaking stories” from residents.

He added: “The whole point of the government is they are victimising people who can’t stand up for themselves and it’s people like the carers who take the brunt of the problems that come their way.”

Henry Smith responded: “People talk about government as if it’s malicious and wilfully wanting to hurt people. That isn’t the case at all.”

Mr Smith said he had dealt with benefits questions where mistakes had been made and added: “This was mistakes in the system, not malicious.”

The General Election will be held on Thursday May 7.