HOW often do former senior politicians offer serious public confession — not the weaselly “Perhaps we got some things wrong,” or the admission of a personal peccadillo when it can no longer be denied, but a sober acknowledgement that policies for which they bore responsibility were mistaken?
Not the least of the excellences of Inside the Care Crisis with Ed Balls (BBC2, Monday of last week, part one of two) was the former Economic Secretary to the Treasury’s admitting that he had given the sector nothing like adequate attention and resources. The pandemic brought a public focus on provision that we normally banish from public sight; the realities and conditions of care homes were known perfectly well by those whose relatives and friends lived in them, by those who worked in them, and, of course, by the largely voiceless residents themselves.
But our society treated this knowledge almost as a guilty secret, not spoken of generally. Covid changed that. It brought into the foreground our 11,000 such homes; the reality that, with longer and longer lifespans, the hugely increased chance that each of us will end our days in one; and the reality that many of us will need professional skilled care beyond the resources of the most loving and committed family.
How it treats its increasingly helpless elderly is a measure for any society: our response was to send patients bearing the disease from hospital into the homes, making them effective incubators of the pandemic and causing 40,000 deaths. The fear is that, as we learn more or less to live with the disease, the care crisis will recede into the background again, without the radical resourcing package, joined up with the NHS, that it needs.
Mr Balls explored all this from the inside, living in a home and working as an assistant carer, sharing their training, which, for a trial period, turns them into patients, experiencing the vulnerability and helplessness, and the loss of dignity and personal agency that you feel when a stranger, however tender and loving, performs for you your most intimate personal functions. This was a heartfelt tribute to the underpaid, undervalued staff’s commitment and skill — and a clarion call for fundamental change.
I hoped that C of E policymakers made careful notes while watching Robbie Savage: Making Macclesfield FC (BBC1, Saturday). Here was the story that most parishes and dioceses want to hear: how to transform terminal failure into roaring success. Some key elements were: find someone to buy the outfit for half a million pounds; appoint as figurehead an irrepressible, charismatic showman; and take seriously (this one is relevant) local support, however little it apparently adds to the balance sheet.
And, possibly, try the transformative effect of herding servers and choir into the vestry at the offertory, and yelling at them to buck up their game for the second half, every other word an expletive.