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social care in Britain and has said : "As medical advances keep us alive, we must grasp that our care system is badly out of date.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."

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