The BBC, care homes for the elderly and the problem with governments employing private companies

BBC Radio 5 live is probably the least biased of the BBC channels. The reason, I believe, is that it has so many phone-ins that the presenters are continuously reminded that not everyone shares the BBC view of the world. They therefore adjust what they say. Their attempts to be neutral are better.

However there is still a bias especially with certain presenters, one of whom is Rachel Burden. (Others are Richard Bacon and Andy Verity, who could be described as the anti-business correspondent.) This morning she was interviewing someone from Which magazine about care for the elderly. Which? had discovered instances of poor treatment of the elderly. It was pointed out that 80% of care for the elderly is provided by private companies. The Which? man was keen to say that it was the government’s responsibility. But Rachel Burden wanted to suggest that it was private companies motivated by profit that were the cause of the bad care. The Which? man finished by recommending that relatives should complain to the care home and various authorities to try to get better care for their elderly relatives.

There, in a capsule, is a large part of the BBC’s political outlook: private companies seeking profit are likely to provide bad public services; the government should do something about it and we should all complain more. It is an dismal and unsophisticated view of how things do and can work. It also ignores the history of how things came to be as they are.

What was not described was the background to the care for the elderly in Britain.

- Care provided directly by councils themselves proved to be extremely expensive because that is often the way with services provided by government monopolies. That, I believe, is why there has been a mass transfer to provision by private companies.

- Having farmed out the provision of care to private providers and taken advantage of their better value for money, governments set about increasing the regulation of such places, increasing their costs and causing quite a few to close down.

- the local authorities, having squeezed budgets, tried to reduce the money paid to the care homes.

- So being squeezed by extra costs from government and restrained funding, the care homes were in great difficulty and often struggling to survive rather than profiteering. I visited one some years ago where the owner was desperately worried about keeping going when, for example, he was required to widen all the doors by a few inches to meet new regulations. He said that the many closures due to raised costs meant that many elderly people who needed care were not getting it at all – living alone, half starved, unable to look after themselves and dying prematurely.

- Then there is the great unmentionable: the assumption that the government should provide good quality care for the elderly. There is no questioning of whether the individual him or herself should have saved or insured. There is no questioning of whether the care should be provided by the children of the elderly person. In some countries, children have a legal obligation to provide or pay for the care of their parents. In Britain, this can barely be mentioned.

It is certainly the case that the care for the elderly in Britain is poor. That is partly at least because there is no attempt to confront these issues.

There is also a wider point here. Again and again, governments around the world find that they can save money by using the greater efficiency of private companies which are less inclined to feather the beds of employees than governments. Private companies do not offer the same number of sick days, the same short hours and the same early retirement (Poland being a spectacular example of the latter). But once governments have secured savings by employing private companies to act as their agents, they then increase the regulation and reduce the money paid. The result is a reduction in the quality of the service and people blaming the private companies and demanding more regulation which will lead to increased costs again.

This pattern is obviously not a good one. But once private companies act as agents for government, it is not easy to avoid.

Postscript: I might add that BBC Radio 5 Live has three of the best radio broadcasters in Britain: Nicky Campbell, Shelagh Fogarty and Peter Allen. It is great pity that Nicky Campbell and Shelagh Fogarty are no longer together on the Breakfast show where they were the best combination I have ever heard on radio.


  1. Poor care homes and private provision
  2. Dealing with the argument that the private sector is incapable fo providing emergency care
  3. “Two thirds of the adult population are frightened by the prospect of having to move into a care home”. Hypocrisy, selfishness and vanity are reflected in the way we care for the old. Care homes made ‘normal’ by the welfare state.
  4. Care for the elderly in NHS hospitals
  5. Should not children take prime responsibility when elderly parents can no longer look after themselves?
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One Response to The BBC, care homes for the elderly and the problem with governments employing private companies

  1. john says:

    James, sorry but I feel compelled to zero in on what may have been intended as a trivial point in your article, that BBC 5 Live has the least biased broadcasters of any BBC outlet. This is factually true, but lets not run away with the notion that it is worth listening to.

    Talk radio is a uniquely US concept that only works in the absence of censorship, either overt from the presenter, or subliminal in a climate of political correctness. We had a brief period in the UK of only a decade or so from around 1995 with the launch of the station Talk Radio during which truly free speech was allowed over the air waves. Presenters like James Whale, Mike Dicken, David Starkey, and George Galloway had regular shows disccussing topics of the day, often with callers accessing the presenter directly, not filtered by a phone desk censor as practiced by the BBC.

    Sadly, the very brief period that free talk radio flourished in the UK didn’t last for long. Politicians were horrified at being treated with disrespect. Outspoken talk radio presnters like Terry Christian, John Gaunt, and James Whale were sacked, and UK talk radio descended into the respectable, uncontroversial, superficial, and boring waste of air space that we enjoy today.

    Hence my view that Radio 5 Live, even if it’s the best that the BBC can offer, is not worth a jot.

    Fortunately, I purchased an internet radio recently. It was the best thing I ever did as I now have access to scores of US talk radio stations. Many of them are stark staring bonkers, but they, and their callers, are free to say what they wish. It’s a breath of fresh air, so much more refreshing that the thought control exercised by the BBC.

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