Ed Balls: Inside the Care Crisis

BBC2, Monday

Rating:

Near Me

Channel 4, Sunday

Rating:

Ed Balls was an MP for ten years, and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer for four years and, as he said in this documentary, where he spent two weeks working in nursing homes: ‘We promised to fix the care system but we failed.’ 

An honest admission, but also, did you think, as I did: ‘It’s easy to say that now, as a jobbing broadcaster, but why didn’t you do this then?’ 

Perhaps I’m just getting curmudgeonly in my own old age. Good tip: Never look down in the mirror. But when one carer said to Balls, and all politicians generally, ‘You’ll need our care one day and I’m not wiping your bum’, I was minded to applaud.

Ed Balls was unflinchingly compassionate and respectful. He washed and creamed 94-year-old Phyllis’s (above, with Balls) legs

Ed Balls showed unflinching compassion and respect. He washed and creamed 94-year-old Phyllis’s (above, with Balls) legs

All of that is not to say, however. Ed Balls: Inside the Care Crisis wasn’t, in other ways, a first-rate and important programme, if a painful one. 

He spent the first episode of two weeks in two dementia care homes. One was specialized in dementia. He showed unflinching compassion and respect. He washed and creamed 94-year-old Phyllis’s legs. 

(‘I don’t like this old age,’ said Phyllis, although whether this suddenly came upon her when she noted it was Ed Balls performing her ablutions wasn’t clear.)

He helped Kathleen, who was terrified, down the steps. Frank’s dementia had caused him to be violent so he hovered close by. His room was emptied of two carers. ‘Now, Frank, don’t hurt Alison today,’ one said. 

At one point the camera in Phyllis’s room panned to photographs of her as a little girl and it seemed impossible that anyone could go from then to as she was now. Although we choose not to consider it, this made us think. 

What if I was Phyllis, Kathleen or Frank? I wondered. All of it was terrifying.

Ed went to visit his mom, who has vascular dementia. She had lived in her home since 2003. Because of Covid restrictions, Ed hadn’t been able to see his mother for sixteen months. It was very moving.

Although she couldn’t speak, I can assure you that her face was beautiful and freshened up. Phyllis’ fingernails were beautifully painted, you might have noted. It was touching to see that someone took the time to do this.

Carers are angels, 

For the final year of my father’s life, he had Sandy as his carer. His delusions became so bad that we had the door locked and all his knives hidden. But her understanding and dedication never wavered. 

Carers clean, feed, change, soothe, entertain, lift, and even hold your hand when you’re dead in the middle night. For which they are paid £9.50 an hour. 

As one said: ‘We are the bottom of the pile.’ And as another said: ‘We are unskilled workers, right? We’re nothing.’

We learned that there is no job structure or status, and 149,000 care workers quit the sector in 2019. Post-Covid, the system is, we were told, ‘teetering on the edge’. We needed more facts and less emotive language. 

The homes form part of a family business run by a father-son team. They said that the business wouldn’t be viable in six months’ time as 11 beds remained empty, at a cost of £33,000 a month to the home. 

The fear of losing their family members was a common concern. However, what about the costs associated with care and their profits in previous years? Is care a viable private venture? 

Did they pay more to their employees when they claimed they wanted full occupancy? This aspect was overlooked, which is frustrating. 

Despite the pain, it made you think. And I’m still thinking about it now.

Continue reading Near Me, Channel 4’s latest thriller, starring Connie Nielsen, as well as Christopher Eccleston with very strange hair, as a married couple. 

Close To Me , Channel 4’s latest thriller, stars Connie Nielsen, as well as Christopher Eccleston (above, with Neilsen) with very strange hair, as a married couple

Close To Me , Channel 4’s latest thriller, stars Connie Nielsen, as well as Christopher Eccleston (above, with Neilsen) with very strange hair, as a married couple

She slips down the steps and forgets everything from the past year. Is she drunk? Is she being pushed or drunk? Where’s her phone? Was she able to have sex in public with the young, hot gardener? Yes, it’s our old friend, dark secrets. And it’s ludicrously scripted.

There’s not only her jarring internal narration, but also when she asks the hot young gardener if she slept with him he says ‘Well, I have handled your lobelia’, which made me want to crawl off and die right there. 

Plus it’s yet another thriller set in a Grand Designs-style house by the sea.

One other tip for you: if you want to be safe, move to a modest one-bed flat in Coton in the Elms, the village in Derbyshire that, at 70 miles from the coast, is Britain’s most inland place. There will be no one to bother you.