Rhodes on ignoring a storm and the enigma of care costs

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Storm Arwen - a bit of a blow Oop North?
Storm Arwen - a bit of a blow Oop North?

A week passed before the national media and the Whitehall machine woke up to the fact that a huge emergency was unfolding. No surprises there. Storm Arwen ripped through the north of England and Scotland, places generally overlooked by hacks and ministers.

As a local Tory councillor in Durham, James Cosslett, put it: “If this happened in London, can you imagine, or in the south east, everything would have got thrown at it.”

This north-south divide also applies in reverse. Remember The Great British Hurricane of October 1987? According to the national media, a vast swathe of the UK was flattened. We were on holiday in Wales, convinced from the endless reporting that our house in the Midlands must have been blown away. We rushed home early to find zero damage. As I wrote at the time: “It was not a Great British Hurricane at all. What happened affected no more than a few counties . . . But they were VIP counties, places like Surrey, Kent and Sussex where the very important people in television and newspapers happen to live.”

And if Storm Arwen had roared through those same VIP counties last week, you can bet your life it would have been a Great British Hurricane, not a bit of a blow Oop North.

Winston Churchill famously described Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” You could say much the same about Britain’s care-home industry today. The riddle is why it costs so much; £700 a week is not unusual for basic care and accommodation. The enigma is how poorly staff are paid, in some cases barely the minimum wage. The puzzle is where the profits go.

Panorama (BBC1) did the nation a service this week by examining the tangled finances of the care industry and asking whether normal business rules of profit and loss should apply to the sector. But there is a bigger question. As our population ages, should we really be hiving off care to private companies? Why does our National Health Service not provide all the nation’s care needs?

As if to prove the point, on the day Panorama was screened, an under-staffed care home in Kent closed, giving distraught families just 10 hours’ notice to find alternative accommodation. The NHS is far from perfect but you can’t imagine that sort of nightmare happening on its watch.

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