Beyond caring

The special carers grant has so far failed to live up to
expectations – especially in targeting ethnic minority carers.
David Hepworth outlines what more needs to be done to help
these ‘hidden carers’.

The aspiration behind the special carers grant, introduced in
1999 under the Promoting Independence guidance,1 was to
provide carers with supportive services to relieve stress, promote
their social inclusion and maintain their health.

However, studies from the King’s Fund and the Carers National
Association (CNA)suggest that local authorities have failed to live
up to this aspiration during the grant’s first years of operation.
And if local authorities have failed carers generally, what are the
chances for carers from minority ethnic communities?

There is no requirement for councils to identify specific
developments or spending for minority ethnic carers, and there is
now evidence that this has contributed to many local authorities
overlooking them in their first special carers grant plans for

During the first year, the King’s Fund study revealed that only
about half of local authorities had made any mention of black and
minority ethnic carers, while the CNA North of England study found
that councils had largely concentrated their energies and resources
on known carers and organisations, and had missed those “hidden”
carers not already known to social services.

The social policy research unit at the University of York
followed up both organisations’ work. In co-operation with CNA
North of England, we carried out a more detailed analysis of the
place of black and minority ethnic carers in special carers grant

The findings make worrying reading. Most local authorities said
little, if anything, about minority carers in their 1999-2000
plans. The north west is a case in point. Seven of the 17 local
authorities in the region said nothing about black and minority
ethnic carers, while four made only indirect references.

Consultation with this group of carers was poor. A small
minority of councils did describe the mechanisms to include
representatives from ethnic minorities, but most authorities’ plans
said nothing about consultation. Nor did they say how they would
approach the assessment of black and minority ethnic carers,
although some referred to this indirectly, quoting national quality
standards and performance indicators.

A small minority of authorities spoke more specifically of the
importance of monitoring assessment and ensuring the process was
culturally appropriate. A slight majority of the 1999-2000 plans
made some reference to services specifically in support of black
and ethnic minorities, although sometimes in terms of general
principle. Only seven authorities referred specifically to services
provided for, and to some extent by, local ethnic communities.

This approach certainly challenges the principle of
“mainstreaming” as endorsed by central government. The Department
of Health’s race equality report in 1999 defined mainstreaming as a
“means of automatically considering the race equality dimension of
everything that is done”. But in practice, some local authorities
appeared to be using this to justify a generalist approach that
gave no consideration to the needs of ethnic minorities.

The way mainstreaming has operated has even been questioned by
the DoH itself. A 1999 report, Study of Black, Asian and Ethnic
Minority Issues,2 suggested this policy principle might
explain the tendency of central government to focus on “activities
from which all citizens will benefit”, yet at the same time to
overlook special needs and circumstances. It supported the
conclusion that when agencies claimed that they treated everyone
the same, they had either not considered the needs of ethnic
minorities or had decided to ignore them.

With regard to the influence of this policy principle on local
authorities, the Social Services Inspectorate, again in a 1999
report,3 suggested that “social services departments
should re-think the approach of providing a common service for
everyone and treating both black and white older people the

So, what does this tell us about government’s mainstreaming
emphasis? One conclusion is that it needs to get its act together.
It should clarify its principle of mainstreaming services and, by
example and guidance, counteract the way it is abused. The response
to the original Promoting Independence guidance for the special
carers grant illustrates the need for government to be more
explicit in its direction and guidance about the needs of black and
minority ethnic carers.

Maybe the DoH is beginning to get the message that mainstreaming
is sometimes indistinguishable from ignoring ethnic minorities. The
performance assessment framework has included indicators in respect
of the ethnicity of a variety of groups, including children in
need, people receiving assessment and adults receiving services
following an assessment. Also the King’s Fund analysis of the
second-year grants4 identified greater recognition of
the needs of carers from minority communities, and an increased
proportion of targeted spending.

Yet, despite these moves away from the discriminatory effects of
a simplistic generalist approach, the draft policy and practice
guidance for the Carers and Disabled Children’s Act 2000 made
limited reference to dealing with black and minority ethnic carers.
The guidance highlighted the need for equity in eligibility
criteria, and referred organisations and practitioners to the
guidance on fair access to care services. Yet none of the 10
practice examples given in the draft guidance related to black and
minority ethnic people, and the fair access guidance had not been

If minority ethnic carers and their needs are not to stay
hidden, the government must be more detailed in its guidance about
assessing and meeting their needs.

1 Department of Health, Promoting Independence, DoH,

2 Ziggi Alexander, Study of Black, Asian and Ethnic
Minority Issues, Department of Health, 2000

3 Social Services Inspectorate, The Look After Their
Own, Don’t They? SSI, 1999

4 The King’s Fund, More Breaks for Carers, King’s
Fund, 2001

David Hepworth is a visiting research fellow at the social
policy research unit, University of York.

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