Guest blog – Protected or ignored characteristics?

This blog was contributed by Jo Moriarty, a Research Fellow at King’s College London, in the Social Care Workforce Research Unit. She co-authored the evidence review Diversity in older people and access to services with Unit Director, Jill Manthorpe.

The Equality Act 2010 made existing anti-discrimination legislation simpler and removed inconsistencies. It covers nine so-called ‘protected characteristics’, aspects of our identity such as religion, race, gender, age, or sexuality, which cannot be used as reasons for treating us unfairly.

photo by spruce bingsteenSome older people may avoid asking for help because they think they won’t receive equal treatment, in spite of sharing a particular protected characteristic, such as being gay.

Age UK asked us to investigate whether five key services – falls prevention, home from hospital schemes, handyperson schemes, befriending, and day opportunities – successfully offer support across all older people, regardless of any ‘protected characteristic’.

It seemed a straightforward task. Researchers today have access to masses of material. We can trawl through specialist databases containing thousands of research papers published each year. Many organisations such as Age UK publish their research reports online and for free.

however, it turned out there was a ‘but’ and a very big one. When researchers want to investigate whether a service makes a difference – for example, do exercise classes prevent falls – the focus is on the exercise class and those who go to it.

It’s unusual to report which groups were not offered, or did not want to attend, these classes in the first place.

Generally, unless research into a particular service has been specially funded to look at equality or diversity, we are rarely told much about participants, especially details of their sexuality or religion. This makes it hard to tell if services have been successful in supporting older people from every background.

Is the devil in the detail 

So how much detail should we collect from research participants? Would asking more questions about their protected characteristics mean older people are put off from taking part in research?

This issue is as relevant to service providers as it is to researchers. Nobody wants anyone to be deterred from using services by the amount of questions included on forms.

Although we identified comparatively few relevant research studies, we did find some consistent messages. For example, under-represented groups are more likely to use services that can demonstrate they are inclusive and explain what equalities training staff and volunteers have had.

We ended up wondering if equality and diversity was an area where practice is ahead of research. Some organisations are successful in offering services to diverse groups of older people, but have never researched how their approaches work. We would love to hear from any service providers who have information to share about these issues.

Age UK aims to be a centre of expertise on ageing issues and a knowledge hub for all information relating to older people. Find out more about the Knowledge Hub

Read more about equality and human rights on the Age UK website

Author: Age UK

Age UK is dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. In the UK we help more than 7 million older people each year by providing advice, combating loneliness and enabling independence. Locally, we work as part of a network of independent charities which includes Age UK, Age Cymru, Age NI and Age Scotland and over 150 local Age UK partners in England and Wales.

12 thoughts on “Guest blog – Protected or ignored characteristics?”

  1. You could perhaps start with the End of Life Care Pathway – though lord knows, they’ve had more than enough ‘research funding ‘ thrown at them for the past decade.
    There is no ethnic or age monitoring at all on the liverpool care pathway, and since its in healthcare, that is simply unlawful. Even MacMillan (who’ve had millions of DoH funding via various schemes for ‘research’) acknowledge that the elderly are being lied to and robbed of the chance of active treatment for cancer, and for other treatments like dialysis, regardless of whether they’re fit enough to undergo it – I’m really surprised Age UK have endorsed the Liverpool Care Pathway for example, UNTIL they can prove there is no age bias involved. The Equality and Human Rights commission have alreadly taken on a case involving a man with Downs Syndrome who was given an automatic DNAR notice on his medical records simply because he had Downs syndrome, and for no other reason. The number of older people who are similarly ‘automatically’ marked up for minimal treatment/early disposal must be enormous……why aren’t you pushing them to take up similar cases of age discrimination a bit harder ????

    1. Hi Mark

      As we’ve indicated on other blog posts, we continue to stand by the statement that “where the LCP is properly implemented, it provides some of the highest standards of end of life care”.

      We’ve explained that we fully recognise concerns that “a number of people have reported inappropriate use of the LCP, or care that does not live up the standards it describes”. When the government review is published in the summer, we will have a more complete picture about where things have gone wrong.

      Clearly, all concerns must be taken very seriously and we will certainly be including your views, and any other feedback from older people, in our on-going work on this issue.

      The crucial point is that there are deep problems with how health services care for older people and through all of our work, including the Dignity In Care Commission, this is something we are trying to tackle head on.

      Thank you

  2. RE: handy person schemes, our council/housing association has had one of these schemes attached to it for a while now. advertised in their whats new tenants newspaper as for all elderly and disabled people in their accommodation. in the past Ive been eligible for help with flat packs and changing bulbs etc. 2 years ago i was told i was no longer eligible in spite of being 68 then and on DLA from being 49.. higher mobility & middle rate care/.i had to ask my carer to put a couple of small flat packs together for me. that is not in her criteria as a carer.last week i was told they no longer change light bulbs inside or outside for elderly disabled unless in sheltered housing. those people in sheltered accommodation have wardens either in situ or daily calls.we on the outside dont have that.but like them we do have link cords and buttons for emergencies. doesn’t that class us as being in sheltered accommodation?was told to get whoever changes my indoor light bulbs to do the outside ones in spite of them needing a screwdriver and no instructions for them… found out now that they have weird bulbs. one of which i now know is not available in the UK to the general public,only in USA. had to fight to get them to send an electrician after telling them things about my 2 kids that i should not have had to divulge to strangers as it had nothing to do with them but everything to do with why they cant change light bulbs for me.
    just another victim of this governments cut backs.

    1. Oh dear, hugosmum70 – sounds like you haven’t had the easiest of times with your local handyperson scheme.

      Sadly, local authority budgets are being squeezed even tighter and, as a result, services like handyperson schemes are the ones that seem to be bearing the brunt.

      If you do ever need any help, and haven’t done so before, please make sure you call our free Information and Advice Line on 0800 169 6565 to see if there’s any way we can help you.

      Many thanks

  3. Thank you.Age UK……
    what Mark says is very scary. how do we know if we have been marked as DNAR on our own med records? i dont want someone else deciding such things for me. i intend living as long as i can so i can continue to fight for what rights i feel need fighting for and make some folks fed up of me doing so

  4. What we have reached here,and I suspect in other so called civilised societies, is a crisis . Which no one ,it seems, saw coming.
    Governments can pass any number of pious sounding laws and equally pious sounding commissions can be set up but,at the end of the day,that is what they are “pious sounding” mostly words,good intentions and totally without the means(financial) to implement them.

    There is a valiant force of voluntary and charitable organisations and church workers out there,struggling to address what they, as individuals feel is necessary.

    It is obvious that they can make a difference only locally ,where the people in need are known.They cannot hope to reach the great pool of people who are without family,who have slipped the net,who,for one reason or another will ,if they are lucky end up in something approaching reasonable shelter and some kind of care.

    All these Commissions can do is to draw attention to the neglect where it is found,and the cruelty,where it is found. They cannot make the end of life for thosse unfortunate enough to be poor,or without family who are able to demand better treatment. any better.

    Perhaps some of the religious orders who spend half their lives supporting the people of god forsaken places to survive might do well to Look Homeward and do some good here. I cannot recall who it was who said “Charity Begins At Home” but I support the statement.

    Many of the people being subjected to a miserable end of life have served the country during WW2 and probably in other ways. Some of those are, of course,helped by such organisations as SAAFFA and the British Legion Star & Garter Homes etc but these are for those who know where to go.

    Personally I donot think that there is an answer at this point in history.

    It is a lesson to be learned. It requires that Government put into place a stringent system of Self Help,of returning society to a level of caring for oneself,providing for one’s old age,by draconian measures if necesssary,by rooting out the purveyors of food containing carinogenic elements,regardless of vested interests,by teaching in schools from the earliest days the importance of keeping a body in good condition and teaching what rubbish can do to their bodies.


    And,of course, it also needs to be accepted that human beings,and indeed,all living things will always be gorned by the Second law of Thermo Dynamics…all things run out of energy at some time.

    We cannot live for ever but we can,with isdom live well and die decently

  5. The need to avoid discrimination against older people in the provision
    of health or social services on the basis of age was highlighted in the
    National Service Framework for Older People (DoH 2001)- all your organisation appears to support is older folks getting ‘End of Life Care’…which is the complete and total withdrawal of all active treatment, and just old fashioned sedatives and morphine….you really need to shift your emphasis….the only treatment queue the ‘elderly’ are at the top of is the end of the line stuff! Its disgraceful.

    Even MacMillan show you are less likely to get cancer treatment if you’re over retirement age…

    ….and dialysis too…. I think Age UK should be pushing against this a bit more vocally, rather than supporting the Liverpool Care Pathway so much.
    There are ‘patients’ in the NHS….there really shouldnt be any different sub section called ‘elderly patients’….we should all get the treatment we need! That should be your focus.

    1. Hi Mark

      Yes, you’re absolutely right that older people need to be treated better when it comes to health and social services.

      This is exactly why we were one of the co-founders of the Dignity In Care Commission back in July 2011, along with the NHS Confederation and the Local Government Association

      We do listen to everyone’s comments and they all go to help us with our ongoing work.

      We know how strongly many people feel about these issues and so we have set up an online action, encouraging as many people as possible to email Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary. We’d love you to add your voice

      Many thanks

  6. I suppose when the government bean counters were asked to look at things and they came up with things like ‘pensioner time bomb’ and ‘crisis in supporting the eldely’ and kept mentioning that pensions cost ‘tax payers’ huge amounts that it created the image that those who had spent a lifetime in employment and paying their taxes until such time that they were no longer able to do it had in fact morphed into some sort of parasites who were drawing the life blood out of a country that was struggling to fight off a recession. Couple this with the so called ‘austerity cuts’ to all sections of the public sector and you end up with what we have now. Unless you have independent means you really ought to do the honourable thing and just move on. And if care for the elderly drops off then it is their own fault for still being here.

  7. quote from dhughes:- Unless you have independent means you really ought to do the honourable thing and just move on. And if care for the elderly drops off then it is their own fault for still being here. UNQUOTE
    I DO hope this is sarcasm aimed at the govt, :s

  8. Hey,
    I think the answer to this question will change throughout the generations, I believe that the younger generation are much more open and willing to share information in areas like sexuality, religion & age because of the way they have been brought up where sexuality and religions are all widely accepted therefore making them more open about these subjects ,unlike the current older generation in which some where brought up whilst stereotypes around different sexuality’s & religion were very much more common, making them less likely to want to share these detail in fear of being judge and treated differently.

    Joe Hennessey

  9. My housing association have just served us with £10 per week increase in service charge Inc council tax & grass cutting etc,which i already pay for in council tax, i feel i’m being ripped off.
    Ps that is as well as a rent increase.

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