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TV: Inside the Care Crisis and Life at 50˚C

Benjie Goodhart / 05 November 2021

Two sobering looks at some of the biggest issues we currently face, including Ed Balls examining what is happening in the care industry, and what life is like in parts of the world now so hot it has become difficult to survive.

Inside the Care Crisis with Ed Balls
Inside the Care Crisis with Ed Balls. Ed Balls with (l-r) Betty and Phyllis. BBC/Expectation Entertainment/Stuart Wood

Inside the Care Crisis with Ed Balls 1/2, Monday 8th November, 9pm, BBC Two

It seems like we’re in a constant state of crisis these days. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. The Covid crisis. The Brexit crisis. The fuel crisis. The mental health crisis. The environmental crisis. It’s enough to make you want to climb back into bed and pull the duvet over your head. Only then you’d probably discover a bedbug crisis, or a dirty sheets crisis. I’ve kind of had enough of crises. I was half-tempted to give this programme a wide berth, and preview something a bit more jolly and upbeat. You know, like a Ken Loach drama or a funeral.

But we don’t get anywhere by sticking our heads in the sand. That’s why you’ve never seen an ostrich on Oxford Street.

This two-part documentary series follows Ed Balls as he investigates the care crisis, and what can be done about it. He goes to work on the front line of care, in order to get a better idea of the problems facing the sector.

I like Ed Balls. Politically, he was always a bit of a rottweiler for my tastes – one of those bruisers Labour would send in to rough up the Tories a bit, he didn’t exactly pull his punches. But as a TV presenter, he is open, honest, thoughtful and considered, and he genuinely seems to engage with his subject matter.

Three years ago, Ed and his family put his mother into a care home. She has vascular dementia. During Covid, over half the residents in her dementia wing died. But the care crisis started long before Covid – the result of an ageing population and a shortfall of funding. As a former government minister, he feels guilty that he was unable to do more to solve the burgeoning crisis.

In the first of these two films, Ed goes to work in St Cecilia’s Care Home in Scarborough. Here, he finds a humane, dedicated, hard-working team who have been frazzled by the experience of Covid. Donna, the manager, tearfully recalls losing ten residents to Covid in a two-week period in April 2020. In the country’s 11,000 care homes, over 40,000 residents have died of Covid.

Ed gets to work lifting, dressing, washing, cleaning, entertaining, feeding, listening, chatting and caring. The job is demanding, relentless, and requires skill, patience and compassion. He witnesses a colleague being hurt by a resident – a regular occurrence. “Outside of the boxing ring,” he reflects, “how many jobs require you to absorb physical pain?” For that, they are paid £9.50-an-hour, little more than minimum wage. It’s not difficult to see why a staggering 100,000 people left the care sector in (pre-Covid) 2019.

The resident in question, Frank, is suffering from dementia. Ed meets his niece, who reveals that the family cannot afford the one-to-one care that he needs to stop his regular falls. It would cost them £15,000-a-month. Because Frank had a house which she could sell, he has had to pay for his own care. In three years of care, it has cost him an astonishing £582,000.

But the people running St Cecilia’s aren’t lining their pockets. Post-Covid, they have 25% of their beds unused, which means they are running at a substantial loss. The owners reveal that, at the current rate, the business will be unsustainable in 6-12 months. At present, a quarter of the nation’s care homes are facing bankruptcy.

The depressing stats come thick and fast, and the demoralised staff feel underappreciated and uncertain of their futures. Nevertheless, they display a heroic stoicism and go about their work with decency and good cheer. It is an inspirational thing to witness, in the midst of what can only be described as a crisis. All credit to Ed Balls for shining a light on it, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can come up with any solutions at the conclusion of the second programme.

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Life at 50˚C, Wednesday 10th November, 8pm, BBC Two

Okay then. In for a penny, in for a pound. Let’s go for another crisis. You get two for the price of one this week. Let’s use up our crisis quotient all in one go. Next week I’ll do sitcoms, or unicorns, or Timmy Mallet riding an inflatable donkey.

Anyway, everybody’s talking about the environment at the moment. You can’t really escape it. Cop26 is making headlines around the globe, and the world’s most powerful leaders have gathered in Glasgow. (Not, sadly, Presidents Xi or Putin, who have clearly decided that being in charge of two of the largest armies in the world doesn’t protect them from downtown Glasgow on a Saturday night).

The BBC is showing this one-off, hour-long documentary to coincide with Cop26, and it’s certainly an affecting watch. At least, what I’ve seen of it. I’ve not seen the whole thing. This isn’t because I’m intrinsically lazy (although I am) or because I’m incapable of organising my time (ditto) but because the final film isn’t ready to see. Instead, I’ve been sent a number of short films from all over the world which will constitute the main body of the programme.

Filmed across seven countries where extreme heat has become a daily issue, Life at 50˚C reveals the day-to-day reality of living in extreme heat. In Mauritania we meet Mohammed, a goat farmer who has to feed his goats cardboard because the rising temperatures and desertification of his land have meant that nothing grows there. There can be few more stark illustrations of the grim reality of climate change than watching a herd of goats frantically chewing on ripped cardboard to stay alive. Mohammed is leaving his home, and his family, to search for work on the coast, on a fishing trawler. Here, he will compete for work with an army of other workers who have also moved to the coast in search of an elusive income.

In Australia, India McDonnell is scared that she’ll have to move soon too. Last year, she and her father managed to save their home from destruction in a vast fire, but she says it’s a matter of time before the next one. Soaring temperatures have meant that the risk of fires has gone up 30%. The fires are getting more devastating every year.

In Kuwait, temperatures above 50˚C are a daily reality. Ascia Alshammiri, a social media influencer, says that nobody goes out of doors between 11am and 4pm. “This is the hottest I’ve ever seen Kuwait. It’s getting to the point where it’s really unbearable, and I feel like everything about living here is hostile… I don’t see how much longer we can consider Kuwait habitable.”

Farouk is a well digger in Nigeria. Every year, he must dig deeper and deeper to find water. He and his team are digging, by hand, in a village. Day by day, they dig deeper, and still no water. Finally, after nine days of digging in impossible heat, they find it. They have had to go down 27 feet – further than they’ve ever had to dig before.

The film also follows Julio, a paramedic in Mexico who is having to treat ever more people as they collapse from the blistering heat on the streets of Mexicali. And then there’s Patrick, one of 250 residents of Lytton, Canada, who lost their homes when the village reached 49.5C degrees then burnt to the ground.

This is a sobering watch, however you cut it. With 99.5% of scientists now agreeing that climate change is a man-made phenomenon, there is no longer any room for the claim this is a natural phenomenon. It’s time to act. This fascinating but disturbing film should be recommended watching for all the delegates at Cop26 – and all the more so for the ones who couldn’t be bothered to show up.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 6th November

Britain by Beach, 8:10pm, Channel 4: Anita Rani gets her feet sandy in this new series about the history of Britain’s beaches. Tonight, the beaches of Devon, including the story of a D-Day training exercise that cost 700 US servicemen their lives, and the haunting story of a village that vanished.

Sunday 7th November

Sitting on a Fortune, 7pm, ITV: New gameshow, in which contestants can win up to £100,000. Presented by Gary Lineker, would you believe…?

Close to Me 1/12, 9pm, Channel 4: New drama starring Connie Nielsen as a woman who forgets the past year of her life following an accident. With a kindly husband (Christopher Ecclestone) and a loving family, it seems that all is well in her world. But this is a TV drama, so of course all isn’t well…

Monday 8th November

MasterChef: The Professionals 1/22, 7:30pm, BBC One: Marcus Wareing, Monica Galleti and Gregg Wallace preside over a new batch of professional chefs, each one hoping to be named the dish of the day.

Gino’s Italian Family Adventure 1/7, 8pm, ITV: The amiable chef visits the places that have shaped him, and takes his family along for the ride. Tonight, Sardinia.

The Tower 1/3, 9pm, ITV: A veteran cop and a teenage girl fall to their deaths from a tower block in Southeast London. Gemma Whelan plays the detective trying to make sense of it all. Showing over the next three nights.

Wednesday 10th November

The Great Rickshaw Relay Challenge, 7:30pm, BBC One: Matt Baker and five young people who have been supported by Children In Need projects cycle all over the UK to visit places of significance for them.

Thursday 11th November

Mary Berry: Love to Cook 1/6, 8pm, BBC Two: The culinary expert and national treasure presents a new series which sees her cooking delicious family meals and meeting fellow foodies.

Nadiya's Fast Flavours 1/6, 8:30pm, BBC Two: The indescribably marvellous Nadiya Hussain rustles up an array of bold and adventurous, yet surprisingly simple dishes.

Surgeons: At the Edge of Life 1/6, 9pm, BBC Two: Return of the documentary series showcasing the extraordinary skills of surgeons as they go about their business of saving lives on a daily basis.

The Trial of Louise Woodward, 9pm, ITV: Documentary focussing on the trial of Woodward, the 19-year-old British au pair accused of shaking to death baby Matthew Eappen in the US 25 years ago.

Friday 12th November

World Cup Live: England v Albania, 7pm, ITV: Mark Pougatch presents coverage of England’s World Cup qualifier against lowly Albania, which should prove routine enough.

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