We know that one of the most profound demographic changes happening in the UK is the ageing of our society. However, what is less commonly discussed is the rapidly growing population of older people in Black and minority ethnic (BME) communities. While cuts to older people’s services are affecting people of all ethnic backgrounds, Runnymede is concerned about the impact on services that meet the particular needs of BME people.
There were 350,000 BME people aged 65 and over in 2011 (in England and Wales), according to recent Runnymede research. This is projected to rise to 2.7 million by 2051, an 8-fold increase. Over the same period there will be a 9-fold increase in the number of BME people aged 70 and over.
We also know that people in most BME communities experience worse health than white people. For example, Black British people are 30 per cent more likely to report their health as fair, poor or very poor. Pakistani and Bangladeshi people are 50 per cent more likely to do so, and are five times more likely to suffer from diabetes. Further, Pakistani, Black Caribbean and Indian people made up the biggest groups of over-65s (among BME groups) in 2007, indicating the scale of the need for support services.
It is widely acknowledged that many BME people want and benefit from care services that are culturally sensitive and tailored to their particular needs and identity. This may not be as time-limited as some think. Writing in Runnymede’s quarterly Bulletin, Naina Patel OBE argues that although some mainstreaming will occur over time, ‘services tailored to BME requirements will continue to be needed.’
In this context, funding cuts to BME voluntary and community sector social care services are a serious concern. Living in the Margins innovative research shows that, 64 per cent of local authorities in England are reducing their funding for these services; £3 million worth of cuts were made in 2010-11, and this will only accelerate over time.
London is being particularly hard hit, with 75 per cent of local authorities reporting reductions in funding; £1.5 million worth of cuts were made in 2010-11. This is particularly significant as BME people make up an increasing share of the capital’s rising older population; whereas one in five over 60s was from a BME background in 2006, by 2026 this will be one in three.
Most people understand that cuts to funding are a reality in this period of austerity. Indeed, one might argue that some cuts to BME voluntary and community sector care services are unavoidable. What definitely is not acceptable, however, is local authorities shirking their responsibility to monitor the impact of cuts on disadvantaged groups. Living in the Margins research suggests that some may be doing just that – one in five local authority responses did not show that they had conducted an Equality Impact Assessment, and one in five said they did not even collect the relevant data.
Those people who lose access to vital services providing support and friendship may have no-where else to go. The consequences will be dire, including social isolation and declining health. We know that BME people have fewer financial resources with which to access alternative services; ethnic minorities have less wealth and experience higher rates of pensioner poverty. For example, one in two Pakistani and Bangladeshi pensioners live in poverty, as do one in four Black Caribbeans, compared to one in six white people.
The growing number of older people in the UK includes more and more BME people who have particular needs and experience disadvantage in health and finance. Cuts to BME voluntary and community sector social care services will have a devastating effect on individuals’ lives and may result in other costs further down the line. Such cuts must be minimized and, at the very least, properly monitored by local authorities.