This is a blogpost from Meena Patel, Project Manager – Older Leaders for Change in Mental Health, at my workplace, the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi). It was written for some work we’re doing with the Mental Health Providers Forum.
How many people know that the ban on age discrimination in services came into effect in October 2012? This was the last piece of the jigsaw as far as I was concerned, as older people are now offered the same protection from discrimination in services, as others, on the grounds of their race, sex or disability. This can only be a good thing.
Evidence suggests that age discrimination exists, yet I am really struck by the lack of a debate and discussion about why this is, and more importantly, what can be done to address the isolation and exclusion that many older people with mental health problems experience.
The Equality Act 2010 (under which this ban sits) establishes a new legal duty on public bodies (including those that deliver services on behalf of public bodies to:
- Remove discrimination where it exists
- Advance equality of opportunity and
- Foster good relations in relation to the groups offered protection under the legislation, sometimes referred to as ‘protected characteristics’.
So, what does age equality mean? I have often heard people saying that it’s about treating everyone the same, irrespective of their situation, or, need, as that’s considered to be fair.
The other thing I hear is that services should be ‘age neutral’ – I hardly think advances in race, disability, or sex equality were made by taking a ‘neutral’ stance! Quite the opposite, in fact!
Equality does not mean treating everyone the same but is about ensuring that people are treated fairly and equitably according to their needs. So, what we are talking about here are:
Age sensitive, or age appropriate attitudes, behaviours and actions where there is a well-developed understanding of the needs of people at particular stages of their life (from ‘A Long Time Coming’)
Back in 2009, NDTi worked with the Department of Health in the South West on an age equality toolkit, to help local health and social communities to prepare for the ban. This pack contains useful tools and resources that can help to develop a shared understanding about age inequality/equality and an understanding of the current position with regard to services, through self-assessment and identifying priorities for action. (The toolkit can be accessed here.)
Two diverse localities from neighbouring regions of England, including statutory, voluntary/community organisations and older people with lived experience and their groups, took the opportunity to use the resource pack in order to understand the nature of the problem and to begin to undertake a self-assessment of local mental health service, using criteria contained in the pack. In addition to getting some really useful data and evidence about what works and doesn’t work so well for older people with mental health problems, the broader messages and conclusions from the work were as follows:
- At a local level, agencies need to work together with their communities including older people who use services and their carers to develop a shared, clear vision about what age equality in mental health services looks like;
- Staff and communities need to develop positive attitudes and mindsets so that older people with mental health problems can access a range of opportunities that promote wellbeing and inclusion;
- Services and supports need to become more personalised and focus on what older people need and aspire to, not their age;
- Older people need to experience better outcomes from and positive experiences of mental health services.
If service providers do all of the above, they’d be going above and beyond the requirements of equalities legislation, while at the same time leading the way in supporting older people with mental health problems to live well in their local communities.