Local elections: The view from Medway

Last week I was taking the political temperature ahead of the local elections in Eastbourne, where the council is led by the Liberal Democrats.

This week I am focussing on Medway, where the council is Conservative-run.

I met 27-year-old Mike Wetjen who is long-term unemployed.

He is exactly the kind of person being targeted by the government's back-to-work scheme, which is designed to simplify the benefits system and ensure that being in work always pays.

He says: "There is a massive difference between part-time work and full-time work as far as benefits are concerned."

He would do part-time work but says he can't afford to at the moment. He thinks the local council should be doing more to attract large companies into the Medway area.

Saddled with debt

Dave Breaker, from Twydall in Gillingham is also 27. He's a mature student doing a computing course at university.

He lives at home with his parents because he says he simply can't afford to move out. He's worried about how much money he's had to borrow to pay his tuition fees.

He believes, with many universities now preparing to charge students £9,000 a year in fees, students will be saddled with debt for years after they've graduated.

Record levels

But it's not only students who're concerned about money. Personal debt and house repossession rates in the Medway towns have reached record levels, according to the Citizens Advice Bureau.

The organisation says it's seeing more than 60 people each week with collective debts of over £2m.

Lorraine Strong, who has been a debt advisor at the CAB in Medway for the past eight years, says she's now seeing professional people who are out of work for the first time.

She says: "The public are relying on the government, local and otherwise, to actually come up with some incentives that are really going to help them, some financial packages that may help them when - for example - they're on the verge of losing their home."

While people are concerned about national issues like debt and tuition fees, residents in Medway say they also want to feel safer in their local community - and that will be a big factor in how they cast their vote on 5 May.

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