A Brighton church has questioned Brighton and Hove parliamentary candidates about their views on social justice and their plans to tackle inequality.
Each of the candidates was asked to give a video interview answering five questions relating to poverty and social exclusion.
The films of their responses were shown at a video hustings at One Church in Gloucester Place, Brighton, on Sunday (19 April).
The five questions put to candidates concerned the gap between rich and poor, access to housing, cuts in legal aid, marginalisation of vulnerable people and disengagement among young people.
Six candidates, Purna Sen (Labour, Brighton Pavilion), Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion), Chris Bowers (Lib Dem, Brighton Pavilion), Nigel Carter (Ukip, Brighton Pavilion), Howard Pilott (Socialist Party of Great Britain, Brighton Pavilion) and Peter Kyle (Labour, Hove and Portslade), gave video interviews.
Simon Kirby (Conservative, Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven) provided a written response.
Clarence Mitchell (Conservative, Brighton Pavilion), Charlotte Rose (Independent, Brighton Pavilion) and Alfie Stirling (Green, Lewes) were also invited to take part.
All the candidates agreed that tackling inequality was vital.
Purna Sen stated that inequality was worse than it had been at the turn of this century and described that as “incredibly distressing for the people involved and very profoundly bad for all of us”.
“I’m always baffled by what is in the interest of the highest earners to see such inequality round them,” said Chris Bowers.
Caroline Lucas suggested a crackdown on tax avoidance and a ‘Robin Hood’ tax on financial speculation. “We should not be punishing the poor for a crisis that is none of their making,” Dr Lucas said.
Nigel Carter said Ukip’s policy was to reprioritise spending on ordinary people and reduce spending on “silly ideas”, while Simon Kirby pointed to improved social mobility, free early years education, apprenticeships and increases in the minimum wage as solutions.
Peter Kyle illustrated the inequalities within Brighton and Hove vividly with an image of getting on a bus at Palmeira Square in Hove and life expectancy dropping by one year at every stop until Boundary Road in Portslade.
Calling for a popular movement to find an alternative to the current system, Howard Pilott said: “We can make the lame walk. Are you telling me that we can’t come up with a better way of ordering our world?”
On the issue of access to housing, Caroline Lucas said people had come to her surgeries “desperate” for a roof over their heads.
Dr Lucas stated that housing was a basic human right and “properties, buildings should be homes and not financial assets to be played with on the market.”
Peter Kyle highlighted a need for leadership to facilitate more house building. House building causes profound change in communities, Dr Kyle said, and there was a need for strong leadership to support people through that and for people to be able to see the benefits.
Chris Bowers said it was necessary to challenge the idea that everyone must own a house, and also to look at the issue of properties that are not currently being lived in.
Purna Sen expressed concern about children living in properties where that are damp or where repairs were not done, which affected their ability to flourish outside the home. Dr Sen also said she hoped to be able to work with the council on rent controls.
Simon Kirby defended the Government’s reforms of legal aid, saying it had previously been one of the most expesive legal aid systems in Europe, costing around £2 billion a year, and that it is still available in many cases.
Caroline Lucas, who campaigned for amendments to the legal aid bill, referred to the legal aid reforms as “rolling back justice and democracy in this country.”
Peter Kyle said that the reduction in legal aid had “skewed our justice system” and promised to be an advocate for legal aid if he was elected.
While he could not promise that Labour would turn the legal aid system around immediately, it would extend it for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, he said.
Chris Bowers highlighted the importance of making a distinction between justice and fairness, of treating everyone the same versus treating everyone according to their need.
Summing up the issue of inequality and hardship in Brighton and Hove, Purna Sen said: “Our figures are shocking. We have pockets of child poverty that we don’t talk about.”
“There are stories in Brighton that are not about the wonderful things we celebrate like art and literature and the digital creative industries, but we have stories of deprivation, alienation and marginalisation that simply don’t capture the attention of those who talk about Brighton and I think our task is to hear them and to address them.”
One Church is itself involved in working towards social justice in Brighton by providing lunches to children on free school meals during the holidays, drop-in advice for under-26s trying to get into work or training and a weekly drop-in for adults who are vulnerably housed.
The videos of the interviews can be viewed on the One Church website.