Getting it right:
Assessments for black and minority ethnic carers and service users

Activity: Cultural myths and stereotypes part one

MacPherson’s definition of institutional racism:

[The] collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.

MacPherson Report 1999


MacPherson’s definition of institutional racism (opposite) has come to be accepted as the benchmark definition. It captures a whole range of behaviours, both conscious and unconscious, that have a negative impact on minority ethnic communities. MacPherson’s definition importantly recognises the role of stereotyping as part of that overall disadvantage. One of the most prevalent and tenacious stereotypes is the belief that minority ethnic communities prefer to ‘look after their own’. This often goes hand in hand with the belief, on the part of service providers, that ‘their services are open to all’

Taken together, they mutually reinforce the notion that little needs to be done, either because it isn’t necessary or its being done anyway.

The following exercise will ask you to consider the accuracy of each statement. You will be asked to give your reasons for your choices.

Question 1 of 2

You are participating in the regular community care practice team meeting where individual cases are discussed. You are asked to feedback on your work with Mr and Mrs Choy and the outcomes of the assessments.

In the discussion that follows, a colleague is heard to remark “why are they asking for our help as we all know that they prefer to look after their own?” The practice team manager asks you to respond. You should consider whether you agree with the above statement and if so, why. If you think the statement is untrue can you give your reasons.


Service providers sometimes rely on the belief that minority ethnic communities ‘look after their own’ to explain low take-up of their services in such communities. However the real causes are often much more complicated.

Question 2 of 2

The same colleague then queries why Mrs Choy cannot attend a local authority day care centre as these services are open to all sections of the community. You are again asked to respond to this by the practice team manager. Again, the practice team manager asks for your response.

You should consider whether you agree with the above statement and if so, why. If you think the statement is untrue, why is this so?


Although day care centres may be open to all sections of the community, barriers concerning language and lack of cultural sensitivity can affect their accessibility and suitability for members of the minority ethnic communities.


The belief that minority ethnic communities prefer to ‘look after their own’ is often used by service providers to explain the low or non-existent take-up of services by such communities. This assumption has its roots in the idea of the extended family and its prevalence within minority ethnic communities.

The incidence of multi-generational households is higher than in the white majority community. However, there is significant evidence to suggest that family and household structures are changing in response to economic and social pressures. The impact of increasingly restrictive immigration policies, the differing expectations of younger generations and family – dispersal due to education and employment opportunities – have all contributed to changes in the family and community life (Ahmed 1998).

Research carried out by MECOPP (Minority Ethnic Carers of Older People Project) in 1997 adds weight to this. The research found that:

  • 44% of those cared for were looked after by a sole carer
  • approximately two thirds of carers reported that they had little or no family support in caring for an older person
  • 24% of carers who provided more than 20 hours of care per week reported that they could not take a two hour break
  • 35% of carers reported that they could not take two days off
  • 44% of carers reported that they could not take one week off from their caring responsibilities
  • 50% of carers reported that they would only be able to make alternative arrangements in response to an emergency with difficulty or not at all