Politicians jousted over foodbanks, immigration, local policing and the health service here at the Guardian office.
In our Great Debate with the Lancaster and Fleetwood candidates, streamed live on the internet, rivals took each other to task on the big issues locally, nationally and even worldwide.
We asked questions supplied by readers, with one from Chris Larus of Galgate causing an initial flurry of argument.
Chris pointed out that charity Trussell Trust, who operate more than 400 foodbanks nationwide, reported that over 1m people have been forced to seek help from a food bank in the last year.
“Our economy and social security safety net no longer even ensure everyone can afford to eat. What would you do to change this?” he asked.
The food poverty crisis split opinion, with Green party candidate Chris Coates labelling the coalition government’s new universal credit benefits system “a fiasco”.
Mr Coates said: “It’s shameful we’re in the situation we are in over foodbanks. People are often juggling two or three jobs just to make ends meet.
“There are too many low paid part-time jobs and zero hours contracts. You can’t live on a minimum wage, you need a living wage. Industry should be paying a decent wage so we don’t have to pay benefits. If you pay the living wage you get less absenteeism and staff turnover.”
But Eric Ollerenshaw, Conservative candidate, said: “Universal credit is begining to work. More people are in work.
“Foodbanks existed before the coalition government. The Trussell Trust asked the government to relax the rule stopping job centres from referring people to foodbanks.”
Robin Long, the Liberal Democrat candidate, pointed out that 30% of people who use foodbanks do so because of benefit delays.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people who say something changes in their situation and benefits are stopped while they recalculate it, and this has been going on for too long,” he said.
Cat Smith, Labour candidate, said: “The average working person is £1600 worse off than they were in 2010. Wages are not keeping up with rising prices. We want to increase the minimum wage to £8 an hour. People are going out to work and not bringing home enough to feed themselves. Fuel prices, energy bills, food prices have gone up. Most people who can’t afford to eat go to friends and family first, because walking through a foodbank’s doors is really difficult for people to do.” While Matthew Atkins, the UKIP candidate, said: “Eric saying there are more people going (to the foodbank) because the Conservatives let them go is slightly amusing. The benefits system is not only inefficient, it’s very complicated. UKIP would take minimum wage earners out of tax and address the immigration crisis which has compressed wages.”
The Great Debate was held on April 23. All candidates were invited. Harold Elletson of the Northern Party was unable to attend.
To watch the debate in full go to www.lancasterguardian.co.uk