The fierce urgency of now: Tackling racial inequalities in social care

Featured article - 05 June 2020
By Kathryn Smith, Chief Executive, Social Care Institute for Excellence

Kathryn Smith, Chief Executive, Social Care Institute for Excellence

"As millions of people across the country take to the streets and raise their voices in response to the killing of George Floyd and the ongoing problem of unequal justice, many people have reached out asking how we can sustain momentum to bring about real change". Barack Obama speaking this week about the murder of George Floyd.

What should our response to such a statement be? Here are three typical ones:

  • ‘This is about America, not the UK’
  • ‘I am not a racist so it has nothing to do with me’
  • ‘It is not a problem where I work’.

For me, none of these responses is really appropriate. That is not to criticise those who find it difficult to know how to respond to such crimes. It is not easy, and we can find it difficult to find the right way to discuss racism.

It is to say, however, that we need to accept responsibility for racism, and the huge damage which it causes. Why? Because western societies are built on white dominance and privilege; it's embedded in every aspect of society, and white people must work with others to dismantle it.

An issue for social care and support

It is also a problem for the sector I represent: Social care. In 2017, responses by 124 councils to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests showed 90.4% of senior local authority adult social care managers and board members identified as White British. In its annual review of the workforce, Skills for Care found that there was a low proportion of black and minority ethnic staff in senior management roles. I know from my own experiences as a care manager that racism and discrimination is still too common in social care.

Too often, we have put race equality in the ‘too difficult box’; it is one of many problems we need tackle, so it tends to fall down the order of priorities. But with inequalities mounting, and even the fabric of society being pulled apart, we need to act.

This includes the role that white staff can and should play. As Michael West and Suzie Bailey of The King’s Fund recently wrote: “Almost all of us as individuals will say we are not – ‘it’s other white people’, but, in reality, we are all part of the problem and we should all be part of the solution.”

Part of the solution is that we all must – at all levels within organisations – become more vocal and assertive about standing up to racism, and calling it out when we see it. Of course, this can feel uncomfortable, but it is something we all need to do more of.

As Helen Bevan, Chief Transformation Officer at NHS Horizons, recently wrote:

We have to stand face to face with the inequality and injustice that BAME people are experiencing so acutely. Yet as white leaders we're sometimes frightened of saying the wrong thing so stay silent instead of leading inclusion ourselves.

  • Ensure we proactively ask to be trained in equality, diversity and unconscious bias
  • Take time to read about race and its impact on society, such as the excellent
  • ‘Why I am No Longer talking to White People about Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Make sure that black-owned organisations and organisations campaigning for racial justice are commissioned to provide advice and support for everyone
  • Intervene when we see incidences of bullying, discrimination or racism towards people we work with or elsewhere
  • Encourage staff to become champions of equality and do the same yourself
  • Ensure that data on BAME recruitment, progression and retention is collected and reported regularly to all key decision-making boards
  • Ensure that race equality and diversity is embedded into management roles, and is part of appraisals
  • Create safe spaces for staff to speak about race, discrimination and lack of inclusion.

You may think you could be forgiven, during this immensely challenging time for social care, to let the terrible murder of George Floyd pass without action. But this would be wrong. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there "is" such a thing as being too late.”

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