Social care seen as “last resort” by South Asian communities, finds study

Research highlights need for social care services to adapt to support older people from Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities

Social services should support South Asian families to care for older relatives rather than act as an alternative to traditional family care, according to a new study.

The research, undertaken by Brunel University in London, found that older people living in Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities were reluctant to accept social care support as it could be seen as a “public admission” of failing to uphold family values.

Older people living in these communities traditionally expected children or other relatives to look after them in older age, but the study also found that people were concerned that this may not happen due to cultural attitudes or geographical factors, such as their children moving abroad.

The study interviewed 110 men and women over the age of 50 from Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in the south of England.

Christina Victor, professor of gerontology and public health at Brunel and author of the study, said: “Our participants’ narrative suggested it was seen as a really bad thing to take state help for social care and doing so could be seen as a public admission that your family had failed you.

“People were very worried that if they were seen to have social care professionals entering their home or to receive services such as meals on wheels they would be seen by the wider community as being bad parents or having children who were unwilling to care for them.”


• Participants had moved to the UK for either work (men) or marriage (women) and most people never anticipated ‘growing old’ in the UK.

• Key life events that involve changes in family roles and responsibilities such as marriage of children or birth of grandchildren signified the onset of ‘old age’, rather than it being linked to a specific age such as 65 or 70 years old.

• Highly complex family and social networks had implications for both the expectation of and provision of care and support.

• Strong links with the local community were the norm and these provided vital support in coping with growing old in a foreign country

• Expectations that children would provide care in old age were strong and social care services were viewed as a last resort.

• Some participants were uncertain that their expectations for family care would be realised in the future.

The research states that social services could be “more appropriate and acceptable” to South Asian communities by focusing on supporting families to care for relatives, rather than being presented as a substitute for family care.

Victor said that this could involve professionals being more flexible in the solutions that they offer, rather than trying to get families to work within the UK’s model of care.

She added: “The issue we face is trying to get a message to these communities that services are not there to take over from the family but to support them.

“If services could demonstrably work with families this may help communities themselves to realise that receiving social care will still allow them to continue their traditional family norms of supporting older people.”


• The ‘Families and Caring in South Asian Communities’ study was undertaken by Professor Christina Victor at Brunel University London and was published by the New Dynamics of Ageing research programme.

• The research was undertaken from 1 February 2010 to 30 June 2011 and recruited a sample of 110 participants from Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in the south of England.

• Sixty participants were of Pakistani origin and 50 were Bangladeshi and there was also an almost equal split between men (50) and women (60).

• Data was collected from hour-long, face-to-face interviews with the participants and responses were grouped into five different themes: context, ageing, transitions, identity and resources.

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