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.
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.