Panorama Crisis in Care on now
Posted: Wed May 29, 2019 9:00 pm
Two parter starting tonight BBC1. I am recording it.
Crisis in Care: Who Cares ? Review – the horrors of austerity laid bare.
This devastating expose met the people in need whose lives are being ruined by government cuts. Anything slashed by two-thirds is no longer fit for purpose.
Hope I die before I get old,” sang the Who in 1965. What was written in the spirit of nihilistic affectation now sounds, for their generation and the aged cohorts behind them, like a heartfelt prayer.
Panorama’s Crisis in Care: Who Cares? (BBC One) is the result of the BBC social affairs correspondent Alison Holt’s 10-month investigation into the travails of four families in Somerset living with someone with complex care needs and the problems of the local council in fulfilling its duty to meet them.
I say problems, plural, but really there is only one – money. As a result of the government’s austerity programme, funding to Somerset council (which is no outlier) has been cut by two-thirds since 2010.
Anything cut by two-thirds is no longer fit for purpose. A meal. A roll of carpet. A film. And, very much, a social-care budget.
Compounding this already insurmountable problem is the (Tory-run, which may or may not be relevant) council’s decision to freeze council tax for six years, meaning that there is even less money.
We meet 37-year-old Martine Evans, confined to bed by the arthritis that has flared up since she had triplets a few years ago, and her uncomplaining husband, David, who is being ground down by the work, as constant as his wife’s immobilising pain, of caring day and night for her and their three children.
They need help at night, when Martine can need medication or turning several times an hour, but there is no money to pay for help. They need more help during the day, so David (a mechanic, self-employed now because companies won’t give him the flexibility his responsibilities require) can work further afield and not need to get home every two hours. But there’s no money for that.
Katey is fighting for her 58-year-old uncle, Paul, who has Down’s syndrome and a variety of other conditions that mean he really needed the specialised placement he was granted after his mother, who took care of him all his life without assistance, died a few months ago. But the placement was withdrawn, because, again, there is no money.
Michael Pike has dementia and the aftermath of encephalitis and requires round-the-clock supervision. Council carers come in for 42 hours a week – the rest is provided by his devoted partner, Barbara. Her health, too, is now suffering. She recently needed to be admitted to hospital, but wouldn’t leave him. There’s no money to help them.
Rachel Blackford’s mother has severe dementia and the one place that could manage her for two days a week is closing, because there’s no money. By the end of the year, the council is having to find savings of £13m out of its already meagre budget of £140m.
What is striking throughout is how little people are asking for. They just want enough to keep their loved ones at home, to continue caring for them without wrecking their own health and strength in the process. So much suffering caused for the lack of a tiny – relative to what is spent almost anywhere else – amount of money. Again, perhaps that’s the wrong word. You could equally well call it a withholding of money as a lack.
That, perhaps, was the one weakness of Holt’s film. It interleaved the stresses on the groups – council and client – most affected by the impossibility of making a pint of resources fill a hogshead of need, but barely mentioned those responsible for damming the supply in the first place. Any questioning of (let alone response from) the government was conspicuous by its absence.
There was no suggestion that it had been contacted by the makers and declined to reply, which left us going round in circles. Horrifying, heartbreaking circles. But the sense that the problem had been identified early on and simply illustrated and reillustrated thereafter became frustrating.
Like David Attenborough’s decision to stop simply presenting the wonders of the natural world in the hope that humanity will stop destroying them and instead actively speaking out against environmental destruction, I wonder if we are not now at the point when social affairs programmes must go beyond raising consciousness of the latest horror and start calling the perpetrators to account. There are precious few other ways, it seems, for their increasingly vulnerable victims to fight back.
Crisis in Care: Panorama, episode 1 review : This crucial report laid bare our social care crisis.
As funds, focus and manpower continue to be sucked into the Brexit vortex, other worsening national imbroglios are sidelined or ignored. The first episode of a profoundly bleak but absolutely necessary two-part Panorama, Crisis in Care (BBC One), highlighted just one of them: the adult social care system on the brink and in dire need of reform after years of austerity.
BBC social affairs correspondent Alison Holt spent a year in Somerset, a county with one of the UK’s fastest ageing populations. There, the council spends 42 pence in every pound of council tax on funding adult social care. Smartly, Holt took the perspectives both of four families in desperate need of support and of those charged with providing it.
In the former camp: Martine, a 37-year-old mother of triplets with crippling arthritis since the age of two, cared for by her partner; Michael, an elderly man with dementia and encephalitis, looked after by his partner; Paul, a 60-year-old with learning difficulties and stuck in a patently inadequate care home since his mother’s recent passing; and Rachel, denied respite for her dementia-suffering mother as the local day centre faced closure.
Pain, exhaustion and despondency had become ways of life and the details were heartbreaking: Michael talked about ending it all while his wife tried to laugh it off; Martine’s husband had to work after nights of hourly wake-up calls; Rachel dealt good-humouredly with the psychological toll of conversations with her mother.
On the other side, the understaffed, demoralised social workers had to make potentially life-and-death choices, juggling a shrinking budget to prioritise between these and other similar cases. With central government funding to councils cut by almost two-thirds since 2010, the NHS – not itself a model of financial good health – picked up the tab with alarming regularity.
It’s worth noting that Somerset council had hardly helped itself, having frozen council tax for six years. As it voted through swingeing cuts to everything from citizen’s advice bureaus to children’s centres, libraries and, yes, adult social care, it smacked of deckchairs and sinking ships.
And this was just one branch of the care system, in a single county. Crisis in Care put a human face on the price of austerity, underlining the simple impossibility of cutting taxes, slashing funding and adequately supporting essential public services.
The government has promised to publish its plans for the care system “at the earliest opportunity” but, with attention elsewhere, this opportunity may come too late for some. As this excellent documentary made abundantly clear: there simply has to be a better way than this.