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Radio review: File on 4, Dying on the streets, All in the Mind, Bridget Christie’s Utopia

23 February 2018


THERE are few stories as sad as that of Paul, featured in File on 4 (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week). The subtitle to Jane Deith’s investigation says it all: Dying on the streets. As an indictment of societal dysfunction, the tale is Dickensian in its resonance.

Paul, a man of no fixed abode, was discharged from hospital in Barrow-in-Furness, having had brain surgery and in the certainty that the tumour would return and kill him. Weeks later, he was found dead under a hedge; apparently, he had lain there for days. Whatever system was in place to manage Paul’s move from hospital to hostel was not robust enough, and, even after a seizure on the high street, to which the police were called, he was left to live and die on the streets.

With the numbers of rough sleepers in the UK on the increase, the provision for those with critical and terminal illness appears — at least from this documentary — to be hopelessly inadequate. That some individuals seemingly choose not to engage with the help on offer is not sufficient excuse for allowing people like Paul to fall off a radar that does not effectively scan the gaps between medical and social care.

Neither hostels nor church drop-in centres are suitable places for the likes of Paul or the others featured in Deith’s report. If ever there was a subject for Lenten reflection, it is this.

By comparison, the message of All in the Mind (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week) seemed curiously upbeat. With the publication of the Jo Cox Commission report, and the appointment of a government minister in the area, the topic of loneliness is on the political agenda. The BBC has now joined in the conversation with the launch of the Loneliness Experiment, an online survey sponsored by academic institutions, which aims to be one of the largest of its type in the world.

All credit, then, to the presenter, Claudia Hammond, and her guests for not overplaying their hand. Loneliness is not an “epidemic”, as some might have it. To the extent that we can tell, the proportion of people self-reporting as being lonely remains steady; it is just that populations are growing.

Nor is loneliness an incurable disease. As Professor Pamela Qualter observed, loneliness is, for most people, a transitory state; indeed, it can be productive when it forces people to reassess their lifestyle and relationships. Of course, it might just be that you are not a very nice person, in which case loneliness might be the trigger for moral self-improvement, to replace any other, more destructive trigger.

We would, I’m sure, agree that churchgoers tend to be more resistant to, or at least resilient in the face of, loneliness. But does spirituality in general make you happier?

Bridget Christie’s Utopia (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week) presented a comedian’s-eye view, featuring a delightful nun from York, and the first joke I have ever encountered on prime-time radio about transubstantiation. Not a very good one; but who says standards in religious literacy at the BBC are declining?

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