Ed Balls, the former Shadow Chancellor of Exchequer, is seen kneeling on the ground in a plastic pinny washing the feet of an elderly resident at an elderly care home.

He does this with the same gentle care and attention that he would give to cleaning a Ming dynasty vase.

He asks 94-year-old Phyllis if she likes the water hot — ‘or, like Goldilocks, just right’ — whether there are any products she prefers and, as he soaps her feet and legs with a flannel, if she is comfortable. She responds, “Yes,” she says.

We are used to seeing Ed, who was an MP and served in Gordon Brown’s government until he lost his seat in 2015.

Contestant on Strictly — his Gangnam Style dance with Katya Jones was a surprise sensation — and Celebrity Best Home Cook (he won earlier this year) are just two of his TV incarnations. The 54-year-old’s most recent transformation has deeper implications.

Ed Balls has swapped the red box for the white apron as he works in a care home for a fortnight to see the strains on Britain's care system

Ed Balls swapped the red box in favor of the white apron when he worked in a care home for two weeks to see the strains placed on Britain’s care system

As Britain’s social care system teeters perilously close to collapse — a quarter of the country’s 17,600 care homes are reported to be facing bankruptcy, with the sector enduring unprecedented staff shortages — Ed has donned mask and apron to work at the sharp end.

In a BBC Two documentary, he becomes a carer for two weeks. He joins staff at two Saint Cecilia’s Care Homes, Scarborough, to learn what it takes to provide personal care for residents with complex and diverse needs.

He cleans up urine and changes incontinence pads. He washes and shaves residents. He also brushes their hair. He gently coaxes the obdurate into consuming. Some with dementia are aggressive and resistant, so he encounters them. He is humbled by all the hard work of his staff.

But perhaps his most significant admission is that — although his own mum Carolyn, 83, has vascular dementia and is herself in a care home in Norwich — he had not realised just how exacting care work is.

“The biggest revelation for me was that my work was harder, more skilled and more exhausting than what I thought,” he says to me.

“I thought I was fairly knowledgeable, but I didn’t know how personal care is and how important it is to place the resident at the centre of it all.

“You have to accept that you are a guest in their home. Once that happens, everything changes: how they eat, dress, and how they use the bathroom.

As part of his work, Ed had to care for residents like Phyllis (pictutred) in a Scarborough home

Ed was required to care for residents such as Phyllis (pictutred), in a Scarborough home as part of his job.

“Respecting someone’s humanity while keeping them clean is a delicate balance.

I imagined that things like washing and feeding residents were done ‘by’ them, but the skill of the caregiver is to make it happen without the resident losing their agency or self-respect.

“It’s delicate and difficult to navigate that fine line between coercion, gentle persuasion.

“You might feed a toddler by placing the food on a spoon, pretending to be an airplane, but that’s not what you do with an adult. I used to look at my mum’s care notes and wonder, “How could it have taken her so long to eat her lunch?” Now I understand that the act of eating must be decided by the residents.

We see dementia affects everyone differently. Frank, the resident, can be physically aggressive.

“He grasped.” [carer] Alison so hard. Ed, who is responsible for shaving and washing Alison, says that he inflicted a lot pain.

“Outside the boxing rings, how many jobs will you need to absorb pain?”

Kathleen, who has vascular disease and struggles to speak, is overcome with terror when she attempts to walk down the stairs. “Having seen it with my mom, I understand the combination strength and bewilderment that dementia may bring.

Kathleen is struggling, but Charlie, another resident, needs to use the toilet. Ed arrives too late and ends with sweeping the floor with a mop. It is the first such occasion.

Ed's own mother - Carolyn, 83, (pictured right) - has vascular dementia and he has said he did not realise how exacting care work is despite his mother's illness

Ed’s mother, Carolyn (pictured right), has vascular dementia. He has stated that he didn’t realize how difficult it was to care for his mother, despite her illness. 

The documentary Ed is making is his latest TV turn since leaving politics. He is best remembered for his surprising performance of Gangnam Style on Strictly Come Dancing

This is Ed’s latest TV appearance since he left politics. His performance of Gangnam Style in Strictly Come Dancing is his most memorable moment.

Charlie’s spouse Lorna, who also has dementia, lives at Saint Cecilia’s alongside her husband. Her needs are again different. “She thinks she is on holiday and that a car is waiting outside to take him home.

‘You don’t contradict but you don’t lie either. I would ask her, “Do you really want home?” You have such a beautiful room upstairs.

Lorna is appeased, too, when Ed — deploying his Strictly skills — dances with her. We see, repeatedly, how proficient and patient carers are — yet they’re typically paid just £9.30 an hour, little more than minimum wage.

It is no surprise that almost 500,000 workers quit the care sector in 2019, even though Covid was implemented. A government directive that prohibits carers who have not been doubled from working will further exacerbate the problem.

It is possible that up to 40,000 people could be fired.

The Care Quality Commission’s report this month revealed that one in ten critical jobs in care homes is now unfilled as former staff move into better-paid work in retail, supermarkets, and hospitality.

But Ed believes the problem of recruiting and retaining carers can only be fixed if they are valued — as well as paid — more.

Inside The Care Crisis With Ed Balls sees the former Chancellor take up work in Saint Cecilia's Nursing Home, Scarborough

Inside The Care Crisis with Ed Balls, the former Chancellor takes up work at Saint Cecilia’s Nursing Home in Scarborough

Alison, Alison’s carer, understands. “We are not valued, aren’t we? We are unskilled workers. To be a caregiver, you don’t need to go to university.

She speaks to both society and government when her words are: “You must look after us.” Stop putting us last on the list. You may need care one day, but I’m not going to wipe your bum.

The solutions are multi-faceted: to focus on developing a clearly defined career path for social care staff, including better training and higher pay — and that all-important recognition for the profession.

Covid had a devastating effect on care homes. The over 80s were 70 times more likely than the under-40s to die from it.

Yet government policy — to protect the NHS at the expense of those in social care — proved calamitous.

Patients were discharged from hospitals without being tested for the virus. The disease spread quickly among the most vulnerable.

More than 40,000 residents of care homes have died. Ed finds the statistics to be very personal. Half of those who lived in his mum’s care home wing died. At Saint Cecilia’s, ten died in just two weeks.

Donna, the manager, says through tears, “And you want everyone to be saved.” It was the most difficult two week and it doesn’t get any easier.

Despite the best efforts of staff to protect their charges, outbreaks were still reported. According to Ed, Alison told me that they believed residents were dying from Covid because they weren’t taking proper care of them.

As part of his work, Ed met the owners of Saint Cecilia's, the Padgham family (pictured), who despite having multiple homes do not rake in vast profits.

Ed met the Padgham family (pictured) as part of his work. They own Saint Cecilia’s and have multiple homes, but don’t make huge profits.

“No one celebrates social care success.” It’s taken as a given.

Although we see it as low-wage and unskilled it is actually highly skilled. It’s more than just about earning more money. Carers must see their job as a career and stay on the job.

Cameron, 19, is a caregiver who works with dementia patients in one Saint Cecilia’s nursing homes.

Cameron is capable, compassionate, and diligent. However, he doesn’t feel society values his contribution. He wants to become a paramedic.

“Social services must find a way to attract, retain and motivate people like Cameron. There is no clear career path, and no pay structure, for Cameron in the care industry.

“There is a high chance that people with their natural skills will find work elsewhere, as they see care as a dead-end profession.

Saint Cecilia’s currently has four homes in Scarborough. Ed worked in one of the homes. It houses 60 people and has 44 residents. Those funded by the local authority pay £3,000 per month and private residents £4,000 to help balance the books.

Frank and others with special needs pay more. His niece Jenny discloses it has cost £582,000 to keep him at Saint Cecilia’s for the past three years — and the money has come from his estate.

Ed and wife Yvette Cooper MP have three children and have been married for 23 years

Ed and Yvette Cooper MP have three kids and have been married for 23-years

Her uncle, she says, really needs one-to-one, round-the-clock care but the cost — £15,000 per month — is prohibitive. He is often unattended, and he falls out of bed quite often.

Saint Cecilia owners do not make large profits. Mike Padgham and his family own it. They live in a modest home in Scarborough.

Mike tells Ed that he wants enough money to pay his staff more and provide for the residents a better life. He also wants to be able to live a decent standard of living.

But his business, despite being plagued by the problems faced by care homes nationally, has vacant rooms as Covid has discouraged families from placing their loved one in care.

Mike will be able to tell within a year whether the business is still financially viable, or if homes need to be sold.

At present, people in England pay the full cost of social care until their assets — including the value of their own homes — fall below £23,250. Nearly one third of care home residents pay their own care.

But, following a two year Daily Mail campaign against this inequity, Boris Johnson announced last month that an £86,000 cap on lifetime care costs will be introduced in 2023, reducing the pressure on pensioners to sell their homes to afford care.

Experts say nearly 40,000 workers could leave the care system when mandatory vaccination rules kick in next month

Experts estimate that almost 40,000 workers could leave healthcare when mandatory vaccination rules are implemented next month.

Ed welcomes this initiative: ‘It clearly makes sense that the catastrophic costs someone like Frank faces are collectively managed — but it’s still two years away and doesn’t get a single pound into social care to help close the funding gap.’

Ed admits to having lost his mum to dementia. The family was unaware of the best places to seek help.

The early intimations that all was not well came 15 or so years ago when Carolyn — an accomplished home cook — made her signature dish, lasagne, without the pasta.

She made a chicken casserole almost raw, which she then served to her family. Ed’s dad Michael, aged 83, ‘coffed brilliantly over the years, and Mum never acknowledged that she had dementia; Dad didn’t want it either.

“Then it got so bad that it was almost impossible to manage and keep Mum safe.

“Suddenly she vanished. She would say that she wanted to see her parents who had died many decades earlier. Dad didn’t believe she wouldn’t wander off.

“So, we reached this point in our crisis and it was hard to know whom to talk to. We looked everywhere for information and made mistakes. We were then helped by the daughter of a Dad’s friend who was knowledgeable about social care.

Ed, who is married to Labour MP Yvette Cooper — they have three children, aged 22, 19 and 17 — confesses he has rarely been so confounded. What is the solution? “I don’t believe the solution is putting social services into the NHS. However, I believe GPs should always be the first port-of-call. We often don’t recognize dementia as a disease.

Carolyn lives in a small, safe care home in Norwich. Michael moved into a nearby flat so that he could visit her often. There is still residual guilt.

Ed says he felt guilty that his mother had to go into a care home but also that he desired to delay the moment because that put more pressure on his father

Ed said that he felt guilty that his mother needed to be placed in a care home, but that he also wanted to delay the moment to not put his father under more pressure.

“I feel guilty Mum had go into a nursing home. But, you also feel guilty that you wanted to delay the moment she had go. This meant that Dad had more time to deal with it.

Millions of families are faced with a similar dilemma. One in fourteen people over 65 have dementia in the UK. In the over 80s it is one in six. The number of cases increasing as people age. This all comes at a time when Covid exposed decades of neglect and underfunding of the social care system.

Despite the odds, a dedicated group of staff across the nation continue to do their jobs with dedication, compassion, and love despite all odds.

Ed and Joanna, their sister from Covid, went to Carolyn’s house for the first time in over a year once the restrictions on Covid were lifted. The visit is filmed and we see Carolyn — who rarely speaks — with her hair newly styled in her wheelchair. Her children greet her with a faint smile and a glimmer recognition.

Care homes have been heavily hit by the coronavirus pandemic despite the Government's early insistence that the facilities would have a 'protective ring' around it

Care homes have been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, despite the Government’s early assurances that they would have a protective ring around them

I leaned over, gave her hug, and said, “Mum it is Edward, your eldest child.” She responded with a tone that conveyed, “Yes,” and that she understood that. When we visit we have low expectations — Mum is often asleep and unresponsive — then if anything happens, it’s an upside. We looked at the family album and sang Mum’s favourite hymn Jerusalem and some Abba songs.

It was a great visit. They were touched by the kindness of each other. Ed left with a renewed respect and admiration for the caregivers who care for her.

“I knew Mum needed personal attention, but I didn’t fully understand the meaning of that until I became a carer. I have a deep respect for those who do this difficult and subtle job.

Inside The Care Crisis with Ed Balls will air Monday, November 8th at 9pm on BBC Two.