Social care services have often neglected and marginalised the
needs of people from ethnic minorities. The myth prevails that such
communities “look after their own”, but this isn’t the case and
some ethnic minorities are over-represented in the acute
Over the years, concerns have been raised about inaccessible and
inappropriate services. Changes in the demographic profile of the
ethnic minority population – for example, increasing numbers of
older people, refugees and asylum seekers – have also increased
demands on the social care sector. The Race Relations (Amendment)
Act 2000 outlaws discrimination in employment, the provision of
goods and services, and all activities of public bodies. The
challenge for policymakers and social care practitioners lies in
tackling institutional racism and responding to the needs of people
from ethnic minorities in ways that value diversity, respect human
rights and promote independence.
There is a body of knowledge that details the factors that hinder
people from ethnic minorities from obtaining services. But there
appears to be less knowledge and good practice on how organisations
can facilitate better access and delivery of services.
This week the Social Care Institute for Excellence launched
discussion papers on independent living for people from ethnic
minorities, the social care needs of refugees and asylum seekers,
and the characteristics of social care organisations that
successfully promote diversity.
Diversity is a timely issue. An integral part of the green paper on
adult social care Independence, Well-being and Choice is
the commitment to promote diversity by developing a workforce able
to challenge discrimination, by making direct payments more
available and by making greater use of the voluntary and community
sector. In particular, the green paper stresses involving those
people and communities that social services have found hard to
involve in the past.
Social care organisations should strive to employ at all levels
members of the diverse communities they serve. But becoming a
diverse organisation should not be about ticking the right boxes
and “doing the right thing”. Organisations should promote diversity
because diverse organisations offer better services. A social care
organisation that successfully promotes diversity internally will
take account of age, disability, gender and race issues and engage
with service users meaningfully and on their level.
In practice, this could mean extending choice and control to a
young disabled Asian woman who wants to live independently in an
extension of her parents’ home, to assessing an asylum seeker’s
social care needs in an environment that feels safe for them,
taking account of their current situation and the things they may
have experienced in their home country.
For organisations to promote effectively equality and diversity
internally and in the way they relate to service users, it is
useful first to consider what people from ethnic minorities
identify as the barriers to accessing services:
- A lack of knowledge among ethnic minority communities about the
availability of support.
- A lack of appropriate services.
- Poor quality services.
- Insufficient choice of services.
- Workers who can’t communicate effectively.
- Workers without the experience and skills needed to work with
- Direct and institutional discrimination.
Many of these barriers point towards a sector that sorely needs
to improve its diversity, not only on the front line, but also in
senior management positions. To break down these barriers,
organisations need to:
- Involve service users in planning and delivering services.
- Design and provide services based on what people want.
- Implement policy and monitoring frameworks to promote
- Implement record keeping and monitoring systems of ethnic
- Have a workforce that can engage with service users from ethnic
- Recruit, retain and develop a workforce that can promote
Fundamentally, promoting diversity means employing and developing
workers with knowledge of the needs of diverse communities. This
includes employing workers with the right language skills and
methods, and using consultation methods that engage communities in
genuine discussions of priorities and needs. It also includes
providing information that is clear and timely, creating a sense
among service users that they know and understand what is going on.
In addition, providing information that targets word-of-mouth
networks, which continue to be the principal source of information
for ethnic minorities, is essential.
A diverse front-line workforce needs resources and managers who are
knowledgeable about diversity and who are competent supervisors.
People who can communicate effectively, use their knowledge and
have a flexible approach. Scie is helping to develop effective,
well-rounded social care managers with two programmes: a career
development programme for managers from ethnic minorities, and a
leadership programme for senior managers.
Don’t assume that only workers from ethnic minorities can provide
effective support to service users from ethnic minorities. While
there will be times when such workers will be able to provide a
better service, such staff should not be restricted to diversity
issues nor prevented from developing broader professional skills or
seeking promotion in more mainstream roles. It has to be the
responsibility of all staff to be sufficiently trained and
supported to provide a good service to ethnic minority
If the government is to achieve its vision, then it needs to
promote diversity effectively. For instance, creating a
non-judgemental workforce that challenges discrimination is both an
aim of the green paper and a vehicle for improving the choices and
control available to people from ethnic minorities who need
NASA BEGUM is principal adviser on participation
at the Social Care Institute for Excellence. She is a qualified
social worker and has been active in the disability rights and
service user movement for more than 20 years. She has been chair of
Waltham Forest Association of Disabled People and the Powerhouse,
an organisation of women with learning difficulties. Her role at
Scie means she is responsible for ensuring the organisation’s work
is led by users.
Training and Learning
The author has provided questions about this article to
guide discussion in teams. These can be viewed at www.communitycare.co.uk/prtl
and individuals’ learning from the discussion can be registered on
a free, password-protected training log held on the site. This is a
service from Community Care for all GSCC-registered
In light of the Social Care Institute for Excellence’s
three race equality papers, this article looks at how social care
organisations can promote diversity within the workforce and
towards its users.
Scie has produced three race equality papers:
- Independent living for people from black and ethnic
- Social care needs of refugees and asylum seekers.
- Characteristics of social care organisations that successfully
The three papers will be the focus of Scie’s race equality seminar
on 20 July 2005.
Scie is inviting comments on the papers, which were written by
Jabeer Butt, deputy director of the REU, Bharti Patel, head of
policy at the Refugee Council, and diversity consultant Ossie
Stuart. You can download the papers at www.scie.org.uk/publications/participation.asp.
For more information about how to contribute, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
or call 020 7089 6840.
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