Skills for Care’s Symone Stuart looks at the experience of BAME social care professionals during the pandemic and what lessons should be learnt.
The year long pandemic has seen the 1.6 million strong adult social care workforce delivering care and support under extreme pressure.
More than one fifth of that workforce are from BAME communities who have remained committed to offering high quality support despite this group of workers suffering a disproportionate number of deaths after contracting COVID-19.
The impact of the pandemic was one of the reasons we launched a survey of adult social care workers identifying as BAME that attracted over 500 responses. Survey respondents highlighted their experiences of institutional and systematic racism, and a lack of development opportunities leading to underrepresentation in senior roles. Only 17% of managers are from a BAME background.
BAME workers still report having concerns about access to PPE, and told us that their experience of risk assessment has been varied where at times it very much felt like it was something that was done to them. They were also anxious about the increased risks they faced during the pandemic, and often felt they were not sufficiently protected at work.
Mental health issues were also a concern, linked to the frustration and resentment of experiencing racism and anxiety during COVID-19.
We were also challenged by survey respondents to be more on the front foot in helping to tackle inequality across the sector.
We know we are still learning, but what is really important is the involvement of BAME colleagues throughout every decision that involves BAME communities. The creation of the Social Care Sector Covid-19 Support Taskforce – BAME Communities Advisory Group, and its subsequent report and recommendations, was an important step forward.
The advisory group helped to bring BAME communities together to focus on the challenges across the sector. The second recommendation from the Advisory Group was:
‘We recommend that people with lived experience; who are in receipt of social care, their support networks and people who work in social care are at the forefront of developing social care policy and guidance that affects BAME communities.’
They agreed that the future work of the BAME Communities Advisory Group should include facilitation and coordination of this especially as they found that BAME leaders and individuals have not been hard to reach, and have been very forthcoming when asked.
We know that the workforce are not hard to reach because our experience is that they have been very engaged. That’s why it’s been encouraging that there’s been a high level of satisfaction with the interactive webinars and peer coaching sessions colleagues have been running during the pandemic tackling issues for the BAME workforce.
We have also made some progress with our free online Confident with Difference tool to help improve diversity within organisations. We continue to talk to the sector to see what more we can do.
If we accept that BAME leaders are ready and willing to offer their views or experiences, organisations and decisions makers must reach out to them. This will only impact policy if in addition to be listened to, they also have a seat and representation at the table.
We need more colleagues in senior positions who have an understanding of the needs of BAME communities. If policy is going to reflect diverse communities then there is a clear need to engage with these communities on all levels so that we can develop policies that work for everyone.