CANDIDATES bidding to be the next Henley MP have pledged to support disabled residents and their carers.
The Mencap charity organised hustings involving the parliamentary candidates from all the main political parties standing in the general election as part of its Hear My Voice campaign.
Conservative John Howell, the sitting MP, stood alongside Sam Juthani (Labour) and Sue Cooper (Lib-Dem) on the podium at the Salisbury Club in Queen Stree, Henley, on Thursday last week.
The line-up was completed by Mark Stevenson, the Green Party candidate, while former Henley Mayor Ken Arlett stood in for UKIP candidate Christopher Jones, who was unable to attend.
The debate, which was attended by about 40 people, was chaired by Paul Barrett, chairman of South Oxfordshire Mencap, and Henley Meteor club member Sarah-Jane Absolom.
Each candidate was given three minutes to introduce themselves, followed by questions from the floor and 15 minutes of questions from the chairman.
Public questions focused on issues that were important to disabled people and their carers and included cuts to benefits for disabled people and how it affects their independence, cuts to social services funding to local government, helping disabled people get into work and bus timetables in South Oxfordshire.
The issue of employment for those with disabilities and incorporating them into the workplace was raised by a number of audience members.
Mr Arlett said it was better to encourage people into any kind of work, even if it came at a cost to the Government.
He said: ?If I remember correctly, some places that help disabled people get jobs were closed down. I do not know why.
?It is better for people to go into a work environment with other people as that will improve their life.?
Mr Howell said the Government should award grants to employers to encourage them to take on disabled people.
He said: ?I think we should start with acknowledging a need for education of companies who see people with disabilities as having a disability rather than someone who can do a job.
?There is nothing different about these people.
?There are about 400 disabled people a day who are getting jobs. These jobs mean a lot to the people who have them.?
Mr Juthani said he would focus on apprenticeship schemes with local companies providing paid work for disabled people in addition to training.
He said: ?I have had to deal with the disabled as a governor at The Henley College where there are some really fantastic apprenticeships. This helps them gain experience and also demonstrates to employers they want to participate.
?The Henley College has made links with employers to create relationships and then work with them throughout. This is something that could apply on a national level.?
Mrs Cooper suggested companies? rates of pay should be checked.
She said: ?I believe very strongly that disabled people should have the possibility to work if that is sensible.
?I would say it is quite difficult for most young people to get their first job.
?A lot of employers say they do not have enough experience. They need to have more all-round education.? Mr Stevenson said: ?I think better education is needed for employers. In some jobs people with disabilities can outperform anyone.
?It is not about disabilities, it is about where disabilities lie and where someone could perform. If you elect me I would have space in my garden business and then I could employ you.?
There were more general questions on topics such as the benefits of being in the European Union, how to deal with the radicalisation of young people and the Trident missile programme.
Mr Barrett said: ?I think everyone enjoyed the event and seeing the candidates in action. We had contact with Jeremy Paxman to see if he would chair and he said he would have loved to but was in Scotland.
?I think he might have given them a harder time then me!
?People saw the candidates in action and now must judge them accordingly.?
After questions each candidate was presented with a lemon drizzle cake baked by Meteor club volunteer Anna Phillips, wrapped with a coloured ribbon linked to their party.
The Meteor club works with South Oxfordshire Mencap to organise activities for people in Henley with disabilities.
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