Community based services

Some older people from BME communities are forging routes to services via community based, intermediary organisations – organisations who support them with some of the trickier elements of their bids for candidacy, regardless of whether or not this is within their official remit. This indicates the resourcefulness – as well as the levels of need – among this group. It also highlights a potential pathway to services for this group – one that already works. This is nothing new, as Connelly et al asserted in 2006.

Examples of good practice regarding BME older people include drop-in centres and other community facilities, stretching back 20 years or more, which highlight the role of such centres as springboards for building confidence and capacity, developing networks, and accessing information, advice and support (26)

Bringing intentionality to this route in Glasgow may be one way of increasing overall access and at the same time can go some way to resolving another persistent barrier that appears throughout research done in this area over the past 25 years: the perceived lack of cultural alignment between services and people from BME backgrounds. Analysis in the report using the Candidacy framework suggests this affects individuals’ identification of themselves as candidates for services and the presentation of their bid for candidacy in both a collective and individual sense.

Provision of informal, community based services which have a social networking and information dissemination intent will provide older people with vital isolation-reducing opportunities, increase awareness of other services and, with co-ordinated links to statutory services, provide an effective route into mainstream services. For many from BME communities, ethno-specific services of this nature appear to be highly valued, particularly by women, but at least one non-specific, community based service is also well used by people from BME backgrounds in the south of Glasgow.

Cultural alignment

In addition to creating intentional informal routes into services via intermediaries, mainstream services can help older people from BME groups to have more confidence about accessing services through increasing the levels of familiarity and connectedness they feel with the service. The recruitment of more staff from ethnic minority backgrounds to front-line posts is one way of doing this, but appropriate mechanisms need to be considered that ensure these staff are supported in their roles so that they do not become isolated and marginalised as part of larger organisations which have dominant mainstream white cultures, as was found to be the case in research with Glasgow City Council staff in 2000 (27).

Increasing the cultural awareness and practical communication skills of front-line staff who are not from ethnic minorities will, over time, assist in breaking down the perception among older people form BME communities in the area that services are not aimed at them. In turn this should increase bids for candidacy from this group. This training might include some basic language skills, at least in Urdu and Punjabi. Flexibility and open¬mindedness are key qualities for front-line staff and measures aimed at increasing these qualities have been shown to benefit all users of services, not only people from BME communities (28).

Promotion of self-organising groups

This research looked at a model of self organisation within the Afghan community in the south of Glasgow that highlighted possible areas for development for other minority ethnic groups. One of the barriers to access to services this group had identified was a lack of confidence among older females within their community. This prevented them from accessing the kinds of sociallyoriented services described in this report as being highly valued by older people from ethnic minorities.

This lack of confidence was based, in the main, on limited language ability (other than their indigenous language), plus a lack of experience of social interaction outside the home environment. The Afghan group were planning to address this issue directly with confidence-raising workshops and group work specifically for these women, provided from within their own community. They saw this as an essential step  towards wider integration – and therefore towards take up of other services they may need.

This is an example of a community generating a constructive response to its own issues, which has the wider impact of improving equality at a macro level. Such self-advocating behaviours could usefully be adopted by many communities in Glasgow, regardless of ethnic origin or demographic.

However, within the context of take up of services by older people from ethnic minority groups, to use the analogy of many bridges to services existing but not being widely used by these groups, the development of internal, “user” voice from the individuals themselves – along with their own active involvement in the responses to the issues arising, would seem a constructive approach. This approach is not new. It utilises the principles of generic community development work – an area which has seen a constriction in available resources in recent years.

Representation of people from ethnic minorities

There was a view among some people who took part in this study that greater representation from people from ethnic minorities was required on strategic groups and other decision making bodies and that too much of the integration work done in the area continues to be led by non-minority individuals and interests.

The recruitment of people from ethnic minority backgrounds to these groups is, however, often problematic and is symptomatic of some of the other issues raised in the study. A shift to a structure that is more disposed to listen to and respect the diverse ways and means by which people from different cultures communicate about their needs – and about their views on wider issues – would help existing strategic bodies develop more meaningful representation and might also result in new structures that have more resonance with those from BME backgrounds.

(26) Older Refugees in the UK: A literature review, N. Connelly, LA Forsythe, G Njike, A. Rudiger, 2006, Age Concern/Refugee Council

(27) Researching Social Care for Minority Ethnic Older People: Implications of Some Scottish Research, AM Bowes, NS Dar (2000) BJSW: 30, 305-321

(28) Positive discrimination in social work: negotiating the opposition, Cheetham, J. (1982), New Community, 10(1) pp. 27–37