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Help Review: How do we value human life in a pandemic?

Help Review: How do we value human life in a pandemic?
Jodie Comer stars in this new film on care homes in the COVID pandemic.

Money Bite-Size Read:

  • The COVID pandemic has impacted us all in different ways.
  • A new UK film has documented the impact of the pandemic on care homes.
  • In this Help review, we discuss what we can learn from what happened during the COVID pandemic.

The Money Bites Take:

This review talks about the recent film, Help and what it shows us about the COVID outbreak and how we value human life.


For many people, the start of 2020 was unexpected.

After being impacted by the Australian bushfires, we then went straight into the COVID pandemic. The pandemic impacted people financially in different ways. However, its impact on healthcare was wide-ranging.

Care homes were bound to be impacted by COVID.

A care home provides accommodation and personal care for those who need additional support with everyday activities. These are populations of people living together, with support workers and multiple visitors coming in each day. We need to talk about the experience of care homes in the UK, depicted in the new film, Help.




Here’s our Help review and what it shows us about how we value human life in a pandemic:




1. This film puts a human face on pandemic statistics

We know COVID disproportionately impacted care homes. Of the 127,840 people who died in the UK within 28 days of testing positive for COVID, more than 40,000 of these deaths happened in COVID. However, when writing this Help review, we weren’t looking at statistics; we were looking at characters.

The Help starts by looking at life in the care home before the pandemic. We see the cups of tea being made, the family visits and the celebration of events like Christmas. We see characters like Polly, a former English teacher who recites poetry to her fellow residents. Tony, a man in his 40s, living in a care home due to early-onset dementia. Spending time with these characters helps us more fully appreciate the value of life lost due to COVID than statistics alone can convey.




2. We see how miscommunication escalates in a crisis

COVID disrupts the life of the care home residents and staff without warning. Suddenly the care home is asked to take on new elderly residents being discharged from hospitals. There is confusion around the need to wear masks and the discharge policy. We see the care home manager ask whether a new resident has been tested for COVID, but the ambulance workers aren’t sure; it’s above their station, and they’ve got 5 more patients to deliver that day.

The film plays an audio recording of the UK health minister who stated that “right from the start we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes. The power of the film is it shows us what was actually unfolding for those working and living in care homes. That includes issues acquiring suitable PPE, which saw staff wear dust masks and bin bags as a form of personal protective equipment.




3. Care home workers are vital

Help shows the outbreak of COVID in the UK through the eyes of a newly qualified care home worker Sarah, played in the film by Jodie Comer. We see her natural ease with those she cares for, particularly Tony, and finding purpose in her work. In the words of Stephen Graham, who plays Tony, “maybe she wasn’t the most gifted academically, maybe she wasn’t going to change the world with her brain, but she’s changing somebody’s life”.

The film uses its ending titles to highlight the pay rates of care home workers across the UK. Simultaneously, recent headlines have highlighted the financial pressures that are causing care workers to leave their roles, potentially leaving 170,000 vacancies by 2022. The film’s writer was inspired by his mum, who worked in a care home for 20 years, and that appreciation for the work they do shines through.




4. We need to talk about the film’s ending

As the film’s protagonist, Sarah rises to challenges, including doing a double nightshift on her own. There’s little support for her from emergency services, who have to make tough judgements on priority cases. When Sarah is arrested after taking Tony out of the home to quarantine, she is told by the police that it’s not their department to help Tony, and she replies:

“No, it never is, never is. It’s always someone else…underlying health conditions, us and them. When did all lives stop being worth the same?”

When writing this Help review, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the recent headline that the “worst care homes more likely to have poorest residents”. While it underscored the need to plan for our retirement to have more choices about where we end up, it also confirmed why many of us commit to giving throughout our lives including via effective altruism.

Giving your time and money are ideas long underscored across religions and social movements. Besides the health benefits of donating, caring about others is what a healthy society is all about.

The film Help is something we should all watch to know what happened.

In March 2020, we didn’t know as much about COVID as we do now, with a vaccine now available. However, the message of Help is clear, in any future pandemic, we need to recognise the value of human life and take steps to ensure care homes are not forgotten in a crisis again.

Written by Kate Crowhurst

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