The increasing demands on the region’s foodbanks and the impact of benefit and welfare changes were very close to the hearts of many in the audience.
However, some politicians seemed more sympathetic than others to those who were using them.
John Lamont (Con) said: “I understand the pressure on food banks” adding that “they are now advertised within job centres”, suggesting that the two are related.
Labour’s Kenryck Lloyd-Jones replied saying: “80 food parcels are handed out across the Borders every week. You can’t access a food bank because you have seen it advertised, you have to be referred.”
Pauline Stewart (Greens) described the situation as “unacceptable” adding that it had a huge amount to do with benefit sanctions and that the Greens wanted to see the abolition of the ‘bedroom tax’ and benefit sanctions.
Calum Kerr said that food banks showed how some people like to help others but at the end of the day it shows the failure of Government.
A rare intervention came from UKIP’s Peter Neilsen who said: “There has been a breakdown in the welfare system in this country and it needs fixing.”
Michael Moore (Lib Dem) said: “In a wealthy country like out it’s an embarrassment.
“I accept the sanction regime has gone beyond what it should and I have been working with the chief executive of Citizens Advice in Scotland. We went to see Ian Duncan Smith and he agreed that the review would be speeded up so there will be much better help for those caught up in benefit sanctions.”
Members of the audience pointed out that half the people using food banks were actually in jobs and one audience member suggested that Mr Lamont visit his local job centre where he would find that the focus was no longer on helping people find jobs but on sanctions.
“Job Centres aren’t doing the job you think they are, they are making sure welfare cuts are being implemented,” she said.
“With the level and size of change there were bound to be teething problems,” Mr Lamont responded.