Councils fail to account for race

    The issue of carers being hidden is a familiar one but the problem
    is particularly acute within some ethnic minority communities,
    according to charities.

    People from ethnic minorities may not recognise the term carer and
    so are less likely to identify themselves as being one. Helping
    people to do so is one of the aims of this week’s Carers Week, run
    by the Multiple Sclerosis Society and carers’ charities Carers UK,
    the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, and Crossroads.

    By not identifying themselves as carers, people from ethnic
    minorities who perform a caring role miss out on the benefits,
    services and rights they are entitled to, says Cecilia Tsang,
    advice and representation officer for black carers at Carers
    London, a part of Carers UK.

    “The term carer doesn’t exist in their home countries. It’s quite
    new to them and all sorts of benefits and rights that come along
    with that, they have no idea about,” she says.

    Ethnic minority carers also find it very difficult to gain access
    to social and health services, she says. “Part of the problem is
    the language barrier and the fact that they don’t understand the
    system.”

    One Asian woman who has cared for her two mentally ill sons for six
    years says she has encountered some professionals with preconceived
    notions about ethnic minorities and that this hinders carers
    obtaining services.

    She says that when the first of her sons became ill and she went
    with him to see the psychiatrist she felt that she was being blamed
    for his illness. The psychiatrist asked her son whether she had
    forced him to go to university, and she believes this may have been
    due to a preconception that Asian families force their children
    into higher education.

    She says that she didn’t receive any support services until three
    years after she began caring, by which time she was also caring for
    her other son.

    Some professionals also hold preconceptions about Asian people
    having extended families who will be able to help look after sick
    relatives and friends, she says. “They think that we have got an
    extended family somewhere that can help. But without asking they
    don’t know,” she says.

    Funding is another issue. Jeanette Haider, interim manager at
    Carers London, says there is a shortage of social care funding
    generally, and that for ethnic minority carers this is compounded
    by the fact their needs are hidden. “As yet, these hidden needs
    have not been addressed by social services,” she says.

    Haider believes that, ideally, each London local authority should
    be clear about who leads on carers’ issues. However, not all
    are.

    While some boroughs with a large ethnic minority population provide
    a specific service or employ a black carer support worker, others
    with smaller numbers do not, Haider says. “All the smaller
    communities are a bit isolated.”

    Tsang says that councils need to audit carers’ needs through
    consultation or focus groups with ethnic minorities and by working
    closely with community groups and centres to gain a better
    understanding of needs in carers’ communities. She adds that this
    would also enable councils to work out the most suitable service
    delivery option in order to cater for carers’ cultural and social
    needs.

    Local authorities should also fund local community centres to
    deliver culturally tailored services to support carers and to
    provide council staff with training on issues such as diversity,
    culture and religion, she adds.

    The Carers (Equal Opportunities) Bill currently going through
    parliament aims to give carers new rights to information and
    greater choices and opportunities for work and education. But until
    all carers identify themselves as such, any improved measures will
    fail to reach many of those they are intended to help.   For more
    on Carers Week go to www.carersweek.org

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