Six party leaders tackled issues relating to housing, healthcare and the cost of living in the latest pre-election debate, broadcast by RTL.
The parties agreed that more homes needed to be built and the complex system of benefits should be reformed, but offered different solutions during the two-hour discussion.
Frans Timmermans, leader of the left-wing alliance of Labour (PvdA) and GroenLinks, and Pieter Omtzigt of Nieuw Sociaal Contract were absent from the two-hour debate, leaving Dilan Yesilgöz as the only leader from the three largest parties at the table.
The debate, titled “In conversation with voters”, focused on the three subjects cited in opinion polls as the main issues for voters, introduced by a short film featuring members of the public.
Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right PVV, claimed that immigration was the main source of stress on the housing market. “Last year we had a shortage of 390,000 homes and net migration of 225,000,” he said. “This year we’ve had 90,000 asylum seekers and if they get permission to stay, they get priority for a house.”
RTL produced figures showing that less than 10% of the 200,000 available social houses each year were allocated to former refugees. Around half of municipalities give priority to other groups after the legal obligation to house statushouders was abolished in 2017.
“Flirting with PVV”
D66 leader Rob Jetten accused Wilders and Wilders of “cynically” blaming migrants for the housing shortage. “Before the summer we had a package of measures to tackle migration. CDA, ChristenUnie and D66 were prepared to do that but you [Yesilgöz] walked away to start flirting with the PVV.”
Socialist Party leader Lilian Marijnissen called for services such as healthcare and childcare to be taken back into public ownership and funded by taxpayers.
“When children go to primary school we think it’s normal to organise and pay for it collectively, so it’s not so strange to say childcare should be a public service,” she said. “At the moment it’s in the hands of commercial players, who make profits for shareholders from our childcare.”
Yesilgöz came under fire from Marijnissen, Wilders and farmers’ party leader Caroline van der Plas for the VVD’s policies on elderly care, with the opposition partie calling for more care home places to be created.
“Elderly people have built our country,” Van der Plas said. “They’ve earned the right to a dignified life.”
Yesilgöz said the focus should be on improving services through innovations, such as automated systems for delivering medicine, in order to relieve the bureaucratic burden on healthcare staff.
“I share your outrage, but saying this is unacceptable won’t change people’s lives tomorrow,” she told Van der Plas. “What we need to do is organise healthcare smarter. It may not sound sexy, but it’s key.”
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