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General Election 2019: Canterbury hustings organised by Bemix make social care top priority

An election debate in Kent's most marginal seat put the focus on social care and support for those with learning difficulties.

The hustings in Canterbury was organised by Bemix, a social enterprise company that champion's the people it says are often forgotten about by our politicians.

Watch KMTV's report on last night's Canterbury hustings

Matt Clifton, chief executive of the organisation, said: "People with learning difficulties so rarely have a voice in politics, but are so affected in their everyday lives by the big decisions.

"Tonight is about giving them a voice and also extending that voice to other disempowered groups."

Throughout the evening, prepared questions were asked to the three candidates - Rosie Duffield for Labour, the Conservative party's Anna Firth and Liberal Democrats hopeful Claire Malcomson.

Tom Seaton, who has autism and volunteers for Bemix, asked the candidates what their parties would do to end the abuse of people with learning difficulties who have been committed to mental hospitals.

The candidates were asked questions concerning social care and marginal groups
The candidates were asked questions concerning social care and marginal groups

Mr Seaton said: "Not only do we have to raise awareness to people with disabilities, we don't want to be creating a regime based on loneliness.

"We want to make sure we come socially integrated together, and work together in peaceful coexistence."

Mr Seaton's question to the candidates referenced a recent publication by the joint committee on human rights, which condemned the "horrific reality" of mental hospitals detaining people with learning difficulties.

Rosie Duffield, who snatched victory from the hands of the Conservatives in 2017, said the current administration are not doing enough to fix the problem by reviewing individual cases.

She said: "We need a societal shift and it's happening. People know what's going on and the government needs to reflect that."

Bemix supports people with learning difficulties
Bemix supports people with learning difficulties

Ms Duffield won her seat with a slim majority of 187, and has described the battle for the constituency as "on an absolute knife edge."

Support for Ms Duffield in the 370-strong crowd was clearly greater than for that of Conservative candidate Anna Firth, whose comments on her party inheriting the economic deficit were met with booing and jeers.

However, Ms Firth felt confident she was able to provide strong answers on improving social care under a fresh Tory government.

The Sevenoaks barrister said: "If the Conservatives win, we are the only party that is committing to £74 million extra per year to help the disabled and people with autism."

She also suggested tonight's response from the public was not indicative of the entire city's voting population.

It is thought around 370 people attended the hustings
It is thought around 370 people attended the hustings

She said: "I think it was quite a charged crowd, and I think the people we had here tonight are not representative of the whole of the constituency."

Liberal Democrat candidate Claire Malcomson agreed neuro-diverse people and those with learning difficulties should be represented better by government.

She said: "They need to be heard. The Liberal Democrats in particular want everybody to be equal and have their voices heard evenly."

Ms Malcomson was chosen as a last-minute representative in the constituency, after previous candidate Tim Walker decided to step down to give Ms Duffield the best opportunity of retaining the seat.

The controversy surrounding the Lib Dems in the city continued when it was revealed Ms Malcomson starred in a racy gambling advert sporting S&M gear.

Ms Malcomson, whose TV credits include The Bill and Jonathan Creek, said the advert was a "joke".

"There's nothing risqué about it," she told KentOnline.

Read more: All the latest news from Canterbury.

For more Kent 2019 General Election coverage click here.

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