Sunday, 16 June 2019

Britain is still very much a country which generously rewards old men called peers for sitting in the House of Lords and doing nothing

This genial old chap, is an 82 year-old 'Peer of the Realm' with a seat in the House of Lords. Last year he was was among the dozens of, largely, old men, who sat in the House and didn't take part in a single debate. For that he claimed almost £50,000 in attendance and travel expenses covering every single day the House of Lords was sitting, despite never speaking or asking any written questions, although he did take part in the votes.

The House of Lords, the second chamber of Britain's Parliament has nominated and unelected occupants. Although undemocratic, it still plays a major role in making and shaping laws and checking and challenging the Government. It offers a sop to being undemocratic by saying that its members come from many walks of life and bring experience and knowledge from a wide range of occupations. 

A recent analysis covered the attendance, participation and allowances claims of 785 Lords serving for a full year between 2017 and 2018 and revealed that a third of them barely participated in Parliamentary business over a 12-month period, despite claiming almost £3.2m in allowances. It will raise fresh questions about the size and effectiveness of the Lords and the funds that can be claimed by those who fail to regularly contribute.

In fact :

* 88 – about one in nine - never spoke, held a Government post or participated in a committee.

* 46 did not register a single vote, including on Brexit, sit on a committee or hold a post. 

* 1 claimed £25,000 without voting once and while another claimed £41,000 but only voted once.

* more than 270 claimed more than £40,000 in allowances, with 2 claiming more than £70,000.

The former Lords Speaker, Frances D’Souza, a long-term advocate of reform, said the findings corroborated “what everyone suspects is going on” and that a minority of peers risked discrediting the hard work of their colleagues. There’s clearly a need to reduce numbers,” Lady D’Souza said, adding that the research “clearly shows there are people who are attending the House of Lords who are not contributing, and therefore they are simply redundant.”

Despite the good Lady's plea, it is a sure-fire certainty that these old lords will continue to claim their allowances in peace and for doing little or nothing in the service of their country for the remainder of their lives. 

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Britain's poor, proud old men, about to be denied the benefit of a free TV licence, "Fear Not" : You now have Saint Andrea at your side !

Now Britain, a country with, apparently, the 5th largest economy in the world, has decided to charge old men and women over the age of 75 for their TV licences. The BBC has confirmed plans to make most over-75s pay the TV licence fee, arguing that it is the only way to avoid closing channels and making substantial cutbacks. This means that 3 million elderly households will have to start paying £154.50 a year from June 2020 for the right to watch live television and access the BBC’s iPlayer service.

In an act of compassion and largesse , the BBC has said it will continue to provide TV licences to over-75s who can provide evidence that they claim pension credit, a means-tested benefit designed to help older people. The trouble is that up to 1.3 million old 'families' consisting of either on a single old man or woman or an old couple, who are entitled to receive pension credit do not claim the benefit, according to official government figures, suggesting many poor households will be hit hard by the change.

The two main reasons why these old people don't claim benefits are that they either don't know they're eligible or they are 'too proud' to claim for help from the State, we are, after all, talking about old Britons born in, or before, 1944. As a result, charities, including 'Age UK' have said some elderly viewers will be pushed into relative poverty by the decision, with concerns over whether older viewers will be able or willing to prove they are receiving benefits and it is also likely to result in the criminal prosecution of elderly Britons who do not or are not able to pay.

Claire Enders of 'Enders Analysis' said : "It’s a massive hardship for millions of people. The really vulnerable won’t apply for this benefit – the disabled and lone females do not apply for benefits and that will be true for this as well.”

Historically, the policy of free TV licences for the over 75s was introduced in 1990 by the then Labour Chancellor, Gordon Brown, with the cost being met by the Government, which paid the BBC to provide the service. However, in 2015, at the suggestion of Conservative Chancellor, George Osborne, to Prime Minister David Cameron, a deal was struck a deal under which the subsidy would be phased out by 2020, with the the broadcaster having to shoulder the cost of free licences. It was a clever move on his part because he shifted responsibility for deciding what to do about the benefit, which might involve making an unpopular decision from the shoulders of Government ministers to the BBC.

The Corporation launched its consultation the end of 2018, with the BBC arguing that many over-75s were increasingly wealthy and it could not afford the cost of providing them with a service for free. It argued that the £745m annual cost of maintaining the status quo would have taken up a fifth of its budget, equal to the total amount it spends on all of BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the BBC News channel, CBBC and CBeebies. The BBC estimates that the new proposal will cost it £250m a year, requiring some cuts but no channel closures.

The BBC Director General, Tony Hall, who lives on an income of between £450,000 and £500,000 per annum, said : “This has not been an easy decision. Whilst we know that pensioner incomes have improved since 2000, we also know that for some the TV licence is a lot of money. I believe we have reached the fairest judgement after weighing up all the different arguments. It would not be right simply to abolish all free licences. Equally it would not be right to maintain it in perpetuity given the very profound impact that would have on many BBC services.”

Both the 2015 and 2017 Conservative Election manifestos garnered the votes of old people by pledging to maintain free TV licences for the over-75s :

'We will maintain all other pensioner benefits including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences, for the duration of this parliament.'

This pledge has now been dismissed as a mistake.

The Labour Shadow Culture Secretary, Tom Watson, said he would continue to fight the decision : “You cannot means test for social isolation. You cannot means test for loneliness. Millions of elderly and isolated people will lose because of this announcement."

In addition, Conservative leadership candidates, led by Andrea Leadsom, have weighed in to pledge that over-75s continue will continue to receive free television licences if they become Prime Minister, even though this could result in further cuts to the BBC’s budget. With or without an eye on the thousands of old men and women who are Conservative Party members and have a vote in the election to choose her as Britain's next Prime Minister, Andrea said that she would honour the commitment to protect the subsidy : "I think that's unacceptable. It's a commitment in the Conservatives' manifesto and we need to find a way to reverse that."

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Brexit Britain, ironically a country where 75 years ago, very young servicemen, now very old D-Day veterans, fought to liberate a Europe it subsequently joined and now wants to leave

On this day 75 years ago, the old men below all took part in the Normandy landings in Northern France on Tuesday, 6th June 1944. They played their part of the Allied invasion of Normandy in 'Operation Overlord' which marked the end of the German occupation of France and the beginning of the end of the Second World War in Europe. They were individual, very young, fighting men, among the 60,000 who were part of the 160,000 Allied troops who led the invasion of five heavily fortified beaches, codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. The Operation had casualty rates comparable to those in the bloodiest First World War battles as well as those on the Eastern Front  during the Second World War.

Bill Fitzgerald, now 94, was a 19 year old infantryman in the Queen’s Royal Regiment was part of the third wave of troops landing on Gold Beach.
“There were landing craft getting blown up and you could see 40 men completely gone and that is something you never forget. You are just hoping for the best and praying everything went well. On arrival at Gold Beach there were bodies floating in the water, but you didn’t have time to feel anything. You were helping each other, hoping to get off that beach straight away. There was a beach master shouting "Get off the bloody beach as quick as you can – up, up!" So, we got off as soon as we could and regrouped in the woods.”

Bill was invalided out of the war on June 15 when his leg was snapped in two by shrapnel from a German shell. “I remember going up in the air and coming down and hitting the ground again. A soldier grabbed my helmet and put it over my face saying, ‘Keep still Bill, keep still’. I never found out who he was — I call him my unknown saviour — but he stayed with me until the stretcher-bearers turned up. What I didn’t know was the shrapnel had broken my femur in two.”

Stephen Brown, now 95, was a second lieutenant in the 23rd Destroyer Flotilla which opened up the barrage against the German beach defences recalled :
“The afternoon of June 5, 1944 was a dark and rainy day. The bombardment had been postponed 24 hours because of the weather but there was a gap that enabled us to set off. Before the invasion, we were each handed a letter from General Eisenhower wishing us fortune on the ‘great adventure’ as he called it. The noise [of the barrage] was deafening when it started. You got the feeling that nothing could survive where the rocket launchers had fired. But my goodness, they were still firing back at us. It was another hour before troops started landing. I remember thinking, ‘I’m rather glad I’m not down there’.”

Ron Smith, also 19, approached Sword Beach on Landing Craft Tank 947 in the first wave at 7.30am has said :
"I could hear shells going over my head. The noise was like 20 Tube trains at once and I think that is what deafened me. Those shells were the size of a small car. The skipper said: "I don’t want anyone to stand up, just stay down." We kept our heads down.” As their troops began to disembark, a shell hit one of the tanks carried by the landing craft, blocking the exit ramp. The tank exploded, killing a colonel on board and forcing the landing craft to retreat to Britain.

Ron returned to Normandy around ten days after D-Day but a mine sank his boat off the coast of Arromanches. With the crew he crew managed to swim to a nearby merchant ship which lay half-sunk in the harbour and was stranded there for 14 hours with only a bottle of rum between them.

Frank Mouque, another 19 year old and a  corporal in the Royal Engineers and was tasked with clearing mines and obstacles on Sword Beach :
“The first thing you did when you got on the beach was lay on your back with your feet in the air to get rid of all the water in your boots. The beach was total chaos. It was total noise. There were beach masters shouting and pointing and directing because everything was landed almost immediately. You could hear the warships firing." 

“When we got there I ran up the beach towards a parapet. Once there, my sergeant crawled over to me and asked me to clear a footpath to the road. He gave me a roll of white tape and I said to a lad ‘Come on’. I was shocked when he said ‘I’ve only been in the army for six weeks’. I showed him how to dig with a bayonet and look for fuses sticking up, because if you snapped one off, a bomb full of ball bearings would explode. It could take your legs off or kill you.” 

Joe Cattini, 21 years old and a military driver, wasn’t meant to arrive in Normandy until nine days after the invasion, but ended up in one of the first waves on Gold Beach. As a military driver he had dropped several officers at Southampton Docks, but was then grabbed by a sergeant major and told they needed a driver for one of their ammunition lorries. Of the sea crossing he said :
 “It was bloody rough. A lot of the boys were sick. Some of the younger ones were crying for their mums and the NCOs and officers were going around and trying to sort them out.”

Joe landed with his lorry at about 10am after a section of the beach had been cleared of obstacles and mines. “They laid carpets down so we didn’t sink into the sand. There were bodies floating in the sea and on the beach. I had been in the civil defence reserve during the Blitz in London so it didn’t faze me, but the stench and carnage was terrible."

Joe stayed with his unit through fierce fighting in Normandy where at Tilly-sur-Seulles they met stiff resistance and in one action the 6th Green Howards lost 250 men trying to capture the village of Cristot.“We had four weeks in the bocage (Normandy’s wooded terrain) and made six advances and retreats.” After the War he was awarded the Legion D'Honneur.

Mick Jennings, 20 years old was serving on Landing Craft Tank 795 carrying men of the US 531 Engineer Shore Regiment said :
"The crossing to Normandy was very rough and sea sickness among the American soldiers was rife. They could not wait to get off our ‘God damned boat’. There was no escape from the smell of vomit, it was everywhere.”

His landing craft put ashore at 10am on Utah Beach in the fourth wave but after delivering their men and trucks it was stranded as the tide receded. They knew they were easy targets for German gunners, "we ran up the beach to seek shelter and saw shells landing between the craft, which punctured holes in the side of the landing craft. As the shelling continued, I jumped into a foxhole already occupied by an American soldier, who shared his K Ration chocolate with me. Other members of the crew took refuge in a blockhouse, where they found the dead body of a German soldier. They took his helmet, pistol and a hand grenade as souvenirs. The combination of youth and wartime made people very callous but now, all these years later, I wonder about him, his family, who he was and where he came from.”

Raymond Lord, a 19 year old infantry soldier with the 2nd East Yorkshire Regiment said : “I didn’t know what to expect as it was my first time in battle. I had joined my battalion after they had just done eight weeks’ landing training and the hardest thing I had done was a route march from Skegness to Hull, so I went over as green as grass. I was sick as a pig on the journey over to France, with the ship rolling and rocking.”

He was part of the second wave on Sword Beach around 7.45am : "After the landing craft doors opened I just kept moving and there were lads getting shot each side and I remember thinking it’s my turn next. We sheltered behind a knocked-out DD tank on the beach. You had to duck and dive and get off the beach. The first German I saw was laying on the roadside and he had been shot. It’s very upsetting and it fills me up at times.”

Sam Twine also 19 was in charge of the skippers’ quarters on HMS Ramillies when they opened up their barrage said : “An E-boat fired two torpedoes at us and we managed to turn the ship at 90 degrees so one went port side and one went starboard. Unfortunately one hit a Polish Navy vessel behind us, there were lots of casualties. One of my friends was sewing them up in canvas bags. It was terrible. As I recall a Hurricane airplane coming from England swooped down towards us and because they couldn’t identify it they fired on it and brought it down. I was told they managed to land somewhere. We could see the landings. I think I knew I was as safe as most people could be. We fired all our shells except we kept one in each barrel in case of trouble on our way back to England.”

Patrick Thomas, who was a 19 year old member of the crew on the landing craft LCH185, which landed 25 Royal Marine Commandos in the first wave on Sword Beach at 7.25am.

“As we were approaching the beach all was quiet until machine gun bullets hit the hull. When the guns opened up HMS Warspite and HMS Belfast were firing and then the rocket craft moved in and it was like a wall of thunder, a flash of light, and the beach disappeared in smoke.”

“I was covered in blood and the upper deck was a wreck with dead and dying. Eventually the ship sank into the water and I had to get out because she turned turtle. I saw my friend Jack Ballinger’s lifebelt in the water, which he had custom built. I saw Jack a few yards from me and he had been badly injured and was drowning. A telegraphist had both legs broken and was screaming in pain and fear because he thought he was about to die and I gave him the lifebelt. Jack eventually disappeared beneath the waves. I was thrown a line and pulled in by another ship.”

Leonard “Ted” Emmings, was a 20 year old coxswain driving a landing assault craft, which landed 36 Canadians on Juno Beach in the first wave at 7.35am.
The doors opened when we hit the beach and the troops ran straight onto the beach. I lost two of my seamen and three Canadians went down getting off the boat and then the heavy firing stopped. When I saw my stoker, he was huddled up in the corner and he took a stray bullet and died. As I went to come astern and leave the beach I hit a mine. It killed one of the stokers and we came out and sank. We were taken to the depot ship and put on with another Landing Craft Assault ship to go back to the beach, but by then it had died down a bit.There was a lot of sniping by this time and you saw the guys go down.”

Leonard lost many of his Canadian comrades including a Canadian sergeant with whom he’d spent 14 months training who "didn’t get two yards up the beach before he was killed. People should know that the Canadians came over here, they trained over here and died over here. I just wonder how many got back to Canada after the War."

John Dennett was a 19 year old who crewed a landing craft dropping off  tanks and lorries on Sword Beach, would make 15 trips back and forth to Normandy over the next few weeks, towing pieces of the Mulberry Harbour and carrying equipment into France before taking wounded and prisoners back to England. They could fit 200 stretchers onto their ship.
“A lot of lads lost their lives and that is why we like to celebrate and go back and remember them. They have had nothing out of life except to fight for their country and we have enjoyed our freedom.”

Chelsea Pensioners Bill Fitzgerald, left, and Frank Mouque sit together during a D-Day 75th anniversary photocall at the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London.Bill was taken to the field hospital and from there he was flown home and spent the next nine months in recovery. After his wartime experiences, Bill married his childhood sweetheart Eileen in 1948 and had two sons. “Eileen was a great support. She was the one who looked after me and got me through. She used to say to me ‘You’re climbing up the walls in the night-time’."

"When you come back and settle down and get married, all the years you always remember, lads really, 19 years old, you can see their faces and know their names. You never forget it. It was something you had to live through. My wife was my counsellor. A lot of people broke down and there was no counselling. The blokes who fought out in Japan had it much worse — they came back like zombies. What we went through was chicken feed compared to what they went through.”

“I think about it all the time. You never forget. You always remember the lads who didn’t come back." 

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Britain is still a country for an old D-Day Veteran, Peace Campaigner and Soulful Singer called Jim Radford

Jim, who is 90 years old, was a 15 year old galley boy serving on the tug the Empire Larch when it sailed to join the Normandy D-Day invasion on June 6th 1944 which marked the beginning of the end of the German occupation of Europe and the Second World War in Europe. Now, seventy-five years later a campaign has been launched to get the haunting ballad he composed to commemorate that day, 'The Shores Of Normandy,' to Number One. After performing the song for decades, it was rereleased  two weeks ago and briefly stormed ahead of Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber's joint single, on Amazon's music chart.

Jim, who is donating profits towards a memorial in Ver-sur-Mer honouring those 22,442 men and women under British command who died during the Allied landings and the Battle of Normandy. He said reaching the top spot was beyond his "wildest dreams". The Normandy Memorial Trust, which hopes to build the monument, has helped Jim to promote the single and gather support on social media. The group's official account has tweeted : 'With one week to go to #DDay75, let’s get 90-year-old veteran Jim Radford’s single to No.1!'

Last week Jeremy Vine told his Twitter followers he had bought the single after hosting Jim on his BBC Radio 2 show. Nationwide Bank also lent their support to his campaign, tweeting : 'We're supporting the Normandy Trust to raise funds to build a British memorial - you can download 'The Shores of Normandy' single by veteran Jim Radford.'

Jim himself said : "We want people to remember all those good men. All those young men. Boys really not much older than I was, lots of 18 year olds. They deserve to be honoured and remembered. A way to honour and remember them is to take this commitment and make sure that it never happens again. For that we need a focal point. Just as we need the Cenotaph, we need a memorial in France."

There is much more to Jim than just his song. He is a founding member of 'Veterans for Peace UK' in 2012 and was present at their Remembrance Day protest at the Cenataph in London in 2013. 

Back in 2014 when interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme, he explained that he no longer regularly attended the Remembrance Sunday Service held at the Cenotaph in November each year, unless in his capacity as an anti-war campaigner and said :  "Normally I don't go to the Cenotaph. I stopped going years ago. I go to the Merchant Navy memorial on Tower Hill. The reason I don't go is because that ceremony's been hijacked by politicians, by the Royal Family, by the Church. It's not about the Royal Family, it's not about the politicians, and it's not about the Church."

He also said that he thought the Second World War fought against Nazi Germany was justified but none of the wars fought since have been : "If you've seen slaughter on that scale, you have to stop and think, was it justified ? Well it was justified, in that case it was necessary, but in so many cases it's not. Most of the wars that have been since, I can't think of a single exception, seem to me unnecessary and avoidable."

Jim, who was born in 1928, was an 11 year old growing up in Hull, in East Yorkshire, when the family got the news that his brother Jack had been killed when his ship, the SS Cree, was torpedoed in the Atlantic and was 13 when his other brother, Fred, joined the 'Royal Navy Rescue Tugs Service' in 1942.

Determined to follow his brother and at 15, too young to be allowed to join the Royal Navy, he went into the Merchant Navy as a galley boy on the tug the Empire Larch and later said : "I joined the tugs because that was the only way I could get to sea and every kid in Hull wanted to play a part in the War" and “in 1944, you were either a boy or a man and we became men very quickly.”

He sailed out to join the invasion fleet and said : "As we got closer, there was the most tremendous bombardment taking place, every ship was firing it's gun. It was like Dante's Inferno. There were blazing landing craft on the beach and you could still see the fighting going on. Like everyone else, even then in '44, I'd seen war films, but it's amazing the difference when it's real."

"The water was full of dead men. A very sad memory of D-Day is all the poor devils who never made it to the beach, who were in the water with life jackets on, floating, and we hadn't time to pull them out. Your thought is 'this is real, this is actually happening'."

He was on his tug towing a 'block ship' into position before it was scuttled to help build a mulberry harbour to facilitate the landing of supplies for the invasion forces at Arromanches on Gold Beach.

After the War, Jim joined the Royal Navy and served for ten years ten years before retiring from the sea in the 1950s. After a varied career, he now takes a keen interest in the folk and maritime music, both as an attender and performer at maritime festivals around Britain and is best known for his sea shanties.

When asked if he 'had returned to the site of the landings since the War ?' Jim has said: "I've only been back three times. When I saw it was a beach, covered in children and sandcastles and people running and playing, that moved me enormously. The contrast is so amazing."

In 2015 he was appointed a 'Chevalier of the L├ęgion d'Honneur' by the French Republic 'In recognition of steadfast involvement in the Liberation of France during the Second World War.'

Jim composed his autobiographical 'Shores of Normandy' fifty years ago after an emotional return to Arromanches-les-Baines in Normandy in 1969 and in 2014, sang it for all those men who had served and died on the 6th June 1944 in BBC Radio 2's tribute concert at the Royal Albert Hall..He received a standing ovation from the audience where, there was doubtless, scarce a dry eye. It was also in 2014 that Jim was interviewed and related his D-Day experience on BBC Radio 4 :

The Shores of Normandy 
In the cold grey light of the sixth of June, in the year of forty-four,
The Empire Larch sailed out from Poole to join with thousands more.
The largest fleet the world had seen, we sailed in close array,
And we set our course for Normandy at the dawning of the day.

There was not one man in all our crew but knew what lay in store,
For we had waited for that day through five long years of war.
We knew that many would not return, yet all our hearts were true,
For we were bound for Normandy, where we had a job to do.

Now the Empire Larch was a deep-sea tug with a crew of thirty-three,
And I was just the galley-boy on my first trip to sea.
I little thought when I left home of the dreadful sights I'd see,
But I came to manhood on the day that I first saw Normandy.

At the Beach of Gold off Arromanches, 'neath the rockets' deadly glare,
We towed our blockships into place and we built a harbour there.
'Mid shot and shell we built it well, as history does agree,
While brave men died in the swirling tide on the shores of Normandy.

Like the Rodney and the Nelson, there were ships of great renown,
But rescue tugs all did their share as many a ship went down.
We ran our pontoons to the shore within the Mulberry's lee,
And we made safe berth for the tanks and guns that would set all Europe free.

For every hero's name that's known, a thousand died as well.
On stakes and wire their bodies hung, rocked in the ocean swell;
And many a mother wept that day for the sons they loved so well,
Men who cracked a joke and cadged a smoke as they stormed the gates of hell.

As the years pass by, I can still recall the men I saw that day
Who died upon that blood-soaked sand where now sweet children play;
And those of you who were unborn, who've lived in liberty,
Remember those who made it so on the shores of Normandy

In an interview in the Telegraph last month, Jim said that writing the song was "very hard" because "it meant reliving very harrowing experiences. I hadn't realised that, without knowing how I'd done it, I'd managed to convey that emotional impact to other people. I was very surprised that large numbers of people had contacted me to say they had been moved by it."

Friday, 31 May 2019

Britain, a country where old men in need of social care have an advocat in similarly old, New York-born, documentary film maker, Roger Graef

Roger, theatre director and filmmaker, who is 83 years old, was born in New York in 1936 and moved to Britain when he was 26 in 1962, where he began a career producing documentary films investigating previously closed institutions, including Government ministries and court buildings. A committed Anglophile, after 33 years in the country he took British citizenship in 1995.

His first film as a director for the 'Society of Thalidomide Children,' in 1965 and broadcast on the BBC, was 'One of Them is Brett' and was made to demonstrate to headteachers of primary schools that the physical handicaps of the children did not stop them from being active mentally. Roger commented in a BBC interview in 2014 that "nobody had ever seen them as people, they had only seen them as cases and it entered medical school curricula immediately because doctors had never seen them at home."

In his 54 years since his 'Thalidomide Children' Roger first and foremost as a criminologist, he made more than 30 films on police and criminal justice issues, including 'Police', 'Operation Carter' and 'In Search of Law and Order UK. ' In addition, he was a trustee and then a patron of the 'Koestler Trust for Art in Prisons', the 'Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust', the 'Irene Taylor Trust for Music in Prisons' and the 'Voice of the Child in Care', the 'Who Cares? Trust' and 'Prisoners Abroad', a charity which supports Britons imprisoned abroad.

Now Roger has turned his attention and spotlight on the problems of old men and women facing a dearth of social care in Britain and has said : "As medical advances keep us alive, we must grasp that our care system is badly out of date. When you see a car about to crash, you hope somehow it can be avoided. When you see one in slow motion, the urge to intervene is even stronger. That’s my response each time as a film-maker when I find a situation spiralling out of control – kids in care, failed adoptions, police mistreatment of rape victims, young people sent to prison for lack of an alternative, and many more. Now it is adult social care. At 83, and still working, I have a personal interest."

"I was enlisted by Angie Mason, with whom I have made challenging films about neglectful care homes, classroom chaos and fraudulent claims for medicines, and sports products. Working with my longstanding collaborator James Rogan to make a two-part Panorama special on the care crisis in local authorities. Many are under huge financial pressure, some on the verge of going bust, largely because of the needs of a small percentage of their population at a time of austerity and cuts."

As a result Roger acted as Executive Producer of  'Care in Crisis. Part One, 'Who Cares' was broadcast on BBC 1 on 29 May with Part Two : 'Who Pays?' due to be aired on 5 June. Roger and Angie chose eight families to focus on and found their stories "heartbreaking, yet also inspiring. The patience, loyalty and courage of the carers and the acceptance of their situation by those they care for is a revelation. We saw vulnerable people forced to move as care homes closed, families desperately navigating the arcane funding system, and those with no families to fight for them going without care. Yet the social workers and managers are also exemplary, keeping on keeping on despite scarce resources."

"Most councils said "no." But Somerset County Council gave us extraordinary access to show staff trying to manage the needs of one of the largest number of people over 65 in the country, while cutting the budget. The numbers are astonishing : 500,000 council taxpayers in Somerset help fund the care needs of 6,500. Their support takes 42% of the council budget of £320m. Adding children’s services consumes a total of 60%. These are statutory obligations, so other services must be cut, such as libraries, Citizens Advice and road gritting. The care budget must also be cut. Its Conservative leader David Fothergill wanted the government to see the impact of its policies."

"For 10 months we followed the council and its intrepid Director of Adult Social Services, Stephen Chandler. It was a roller coaster. Eight dementia-care centres were shut, leaving some people struggling to care for their elderly relatives. In a huge county, rural travel payments to help low-paid care workers with the cost of the extra miles involved were withdrawn."

Of the eight families chosen by Angie, one centred on Michael Pike who has dementia and the aftermath of encephalitis and requires round-the-clock supervision. Council carers come in for 42 hours a week and the rest is provided by his devoted partner, Barbara. Her health, too, is now suffering and although she recently needed to be admitted to hospital, she wouldn’t leave him and there’s no money to help them.

Another focussed on Rachel Blackford’s mother who has severe dementia and the one place that could manage her for two days a week is closing, because there’s no money. By the end of the year, the council is having to find savings of £13m out of its already meagre budget of £140m.

Roger thinks that there is only one problem : Money. "As a result of the Government’s austerity programme, funding to Somerset Council has been cut by two-thirds since 2010. Anything cut by two-thirds is no longer fit for purpose : a meal, a roll of carpet, a film and, very much, a social-care budget. Compounding this already insurmountable problem is the Council’s decision to freeze council tax for six years, meaning that there is even less money."

"Financial sweeteners are only gestures. Last winter, the Government gave Somerset an extra £10m for potholes, and only £2m for care. Ministers must reorder their priorities. The next Prime Minister can make history by revamping the care system : the grandest project of them all. We should all ensure friends, family, and especially MPs, see these films and do something. Watch out – the car about to crash is heading for you."