Radio review: The Fix, Live Wires, and All in the Mind

24 January 2020

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IT IS a potentially dangerous ambi­tion, given the BBC’s relationship with the current government. Never­the­­less, The Fix (Radio 4, Wednes­day of last week) states as its ambi­tion nothing less than to shape policy towards debt and poverty. Led by Matthew Taylor and Cat Drew, the programme has gathered a quasi-think tank of “brilliant and daring young minds” to tackle a problem that might be with us always.

But not in the particular way in which Audie experiences it: she is a perfect example of the in-work poor: a single mother who was reliant on a teenage daughter to keep an eye on her younger children while she held down a full-time job. Now that her eldest has left home, she has been forced to work part-time.

Such a change is enough to start the spiral of accumulated debt with which Audie is now dealing. Further advanced on this spiral is Marianne, who is at­­­tempt­­ing to pay off a £4000 debt resulting from the purchase of a second-hand TV and sofa with an ex­­pen­­sive loan. Neither story sug­gests anything like profligacy; and, in the case of Audie, her own debt-management councillor was at a loss over what weekly savings might be made.

Both are from the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, where one in ten residents is in debt to the council. The council has now established a new cross-depart­mental Homes and Money Hub led by Chris Naylor, a man afforded superhero status by our presenters: “fresh and exciting . . . cool haircut, good socks”. We will have to see in parts two and three of this series whether he is brilliant and daring enough to impress the BBC’s own brilliant and daring thinkers — and even longer to see if they can cure debt and poverty. But the fail­ure here would be not to try.

It is possessed by only the best interviewers — the skill to generate and manage sub-texts in a conver­sation that is notionally about just one story. Emma Barnett’s encoun­ter with “Wyn” on Live Wires (Radio 5 Live, Thursday of last week) was all about how her hus­band of 32 years was arrested for pos­­session of inde­cent images of children.

We heard about the raid: six police officers turned up out of the blue, and carted the offender off to prison. And one wonders how pecu­liar it must have been that, after such a long marriage, husband and wife have never seen one another again since that morn­ing. In answer to Barnett’s gentle prying, she admit­ted that it was “good to have solitary power over the TV remote”.

All in the Mind (Radio 4, Tues­day of last week) concluded its latest series with a true heartwarmer: a research paper which concludes that acts of al­­­­tru­­­­ism reduce one’s per­ception of pain. Thus the blood donor feels the sting of the needle less. So, by this logic, we should all stop to help the poor on the way to the dentist. But would that be truly altruistic?

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