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Time to care

11 December 2015


ASHLEIGH is 24 and loves her job. She works for the charity Leonard Cheshire, which provides care services for the elderly. In most of the reports about social care in Britain, however, Ashleigh would be designated as apathetic and unmotivated. Why? Because care workers lack status in the jobs market, and are poorly paid.

That Ashleigh does not conform to type came as something of a surprise to the presenter of The Secret Lives of Carers (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), who had the temerity to ask whether a pay rise would improve her quality of care. Ashleigh’s response was bracing: if you don’t care, you can’t do the job, whatever the pay.

Rochelle has spent more than 20 years in the care industry. She has seen it all — the neglect, the short cuts, the pessimism — and ended up one of the increasing number of whistle-blowers on which current understanding of the system is based. She is now happily working for a new employer in the care system, and it is like working in “a parallel universe”; but the question is whether the young, positive Ashleigh will eventually become the sadder, wiser Rochelle.

Not, it seems, if the schemes profiled on this programme were to be rolled out. The message of the documentary appeared to be that high-quality care would be affordable if the traditional time-task model were set aside in favour of supporting relationships between carers and clients. This requires a greater allowance of time at the start of a relationship, as they get to know one another, and also relies on high staff retention. But the payback, those interviewed here said, would justify the expense.

I am glad that I listened to this before moving on to the interview on You and Yours (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week) with Dr Chai Patel. As chairman of the health-care company HC-One, he takes the high-level view of care-home provision, and it is not a happy one. If things go on as they are, he says, we are likely to be seeing increasing cases of conditions such as scabies and malnutrition.

There have been cuts of 40 per cent to social care in the past five years. Although the latest news from the Chancellor’s spending review is welcomed by Dr Patel, it is not going to alleviate the problem across the country. He expects that HC-One will pull out of several local-authority contracts in future.

The interviewer, Carolyn Atkinson, put it to him that private equity and venture capitalism had no place in the care system, where returns were necessarily going to be low. Somehow, I did not feel reassured by his answer: that he would prefer to be investing in care than in the arms industry.

Radio 3’s Northern Lights season gave nighthawks last Sunday an opportunity to (re-)acquaint themselves with Glenn Gould’s intriguing radio piece The Idea of North. This 1967 broadcast is easily found on the internet, although listening at dead of night to Gould’s “contrapuntal radio” lends a certain hallucinatory quality.

This is radio aspiring to music, employing polyphonic structures that Gould knew as a virtuoso pianist. And, even now, this work has the quality of an extended virtuoso fugue.

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