Big Changes Needed For Black Service Users, Say Researchers

The number of Black groups with  “service user experience” has dramatically diminished according to a new report. The study from the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) and REU (formerly race equality unit) found that despite service user involvement advancing steadily in the past 20 years, black and minority ethnic groups are still lagging behind. Entitled Doing it for themselves: participation and black and minority ethnic service users , the report claims that policy makers and practioners frequently consult with black professionals and community leaders rather than directly involving service users themselves.

Author of the study, Nasa Begum is disabled and has used care services throughout her life. She has been active in service user and career participation work both in a professional and personal capacity for over 20 years.

Begum told Black Britain: “We’ve had people with direct experience of leading campaigns and bringing a change in services like the work around domestic violence. But in the field of social care people have tended to rely on community leaders or black minority professionals rather than talking to people who need the services themselves.”

Begum defines a service user as anyone “who actually uses social care services” and believes that relevant organisations have traditionally thought that as long as they talk to “someone black” it really doesn’t matter that they haven’t got direct experience.

Begum told Black Britain: “I’m a black disabled person myself and I’ve been quite concerned about this growing body of people that purport to speak on my behalf without having a real understanding about what its like to be a disabled person or to rely on services to be able to live your life.”

Begum also empathises just how important relevant support is to service users. Begum told Black Britain: “In the current climate it is community leaders that are being spoken to rather than the young people or people in social care. I am someone who relies on people to come in and get me up and help me so I do know what its like to be really dependent on services.”

Begum also aims to dispel the myths that have surrounded black service users over the years. Begum told Black Britain: “I think that it has previously given policy makers and practioners an easy way out to think about excuses about why black users are not using services. The challenge is actually much more about looking at how we can support people to have a direct voice and be involved in shaping services.”

But she remains optimistic about the government’s recent interest. Begum told Black Britain: “The government particularly with their new white paper on care has got some really good ideas but unless we actually work with the people affected, to think about what needs to be done differently to make sure that it is appropriate for black people, then it will once again become rhetoric rather than reality.”

But Begum admits that care officials and their attitudes have disappointed her before. Begum told Black Britain: “Black and minority ethnic service users have been saying the same things for almost 15 years so we do know what the issues are. The challenges for all of us that work in social care are finding ways of making big changes rather than some little project that last 12 months and then just folds.”

Begum concludes with her need to see “an honest and open dialogue” about how community leaders and community groups shouldn’t be representing people without getting the “direct voice” of service users. Begum told Black Britain: “Unless people are speaking with direct experience the black and minority ethnic groups are not representing anyone but another band of professionals… People will just say this is another talking shop, nothing happened and we’ve been saying the same things over and over again, it gets frustrating”

Director of REU, Ratna Dutt, agrees that we shouldn’t rely on assumptions that black and minority groups are “hard to reach” or simply “aren’t interested”. Dutt said: “The beliefs that black and minority ethnic groups aren’t interested in developing services, that they are only interested in their immediate communities and are ‘hard to reach’ have acted as definite barriers to this vital area of social care development.”

Dutt also reinforced the need to “build trust” and “address marginalisation”. Dutt said: “There are no logical reasons why we should see such disparities in service user participation. We need to build trust with seldom heard groups, address marginalisation within mainstream user movements, and recognise the potential for improving services.”