Straight Talk
Brenda Metcalfe • Customer Engagement Manager • Anchor

Brenda Metcalfe shares the results of the project Anchor has undertaken with Middlesex University to support LGBT individuals in social care.

One in three women and one in four men will need care at some time in their life. For many, this transition from home to care home can be an upsetting process, but for some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people this can be particularly worrying.

Stonewall has revealed that 31% of LGB people expect to be treated worse than heterosexual people by care home staff, while 47% said they would feel uncomfortable telling care home staff their sexual orientation. It’s, therefore, not surprising that the charity found 95% of LGB people would prefer to remain in their own homes in later life. That’s despite the fact that many people require care that can only be provided by a care home.

The majority of straight older people take for granted that we can be ourselves wherever we are. But for the LGBT community that’s just not the case. Stonewall found 70% of LGB people don’t feel they could be themselves in a care home and 65% feel they would have to hide things about themselves from others.

It is with this background that we at Anchor wanted to make a difference and provide – as our strapline says – happy living for the years ahead for everyone, irrespective of their sexual orientation.

We have launched several initiatives to make our 121 care homes and 900 retirement housing properties a welcoming environment for older LGBT people. As England’s largest not-for-profit provider of care and housing for older people, Anchor launched its LGBT group in 2007 and we have regularly consulted its members about our services.

The group proved so successful and influential that it has won two Tenant Participation Advisory Service Connecting People awards and was shortlisted in 2012 in the equality and diversity category.

Hearing the personal testimonies from older LGBT people about how life-changing living in our retirement housing has been spurs me on to ensure all our customers have happy and fulfilling lives. I often hear how our LGBT customers appreciate living with an organisation which formally recognises their rights and ensures that our colleagues treat them with dignity and respect.

This is why I’m keen to further improve on these successes, which is how our latest project with Middlesex University, led by Dr Trish Hafford-Letchfield, Professor of Social Care, came about.

We applied for joint-funding from Comic Relief for the project which saw volunteers going into six of our homes in London to ask staff questions about their views on how to provide care to support LGBT people, and looking at how each home operated.

We are always keen to improve our services, so were glad to receive feedback which we have already implemented.

One of the reasons why we don’t know of any LGBT people living in our care homes is that we have never asked that question, so we will now be reviewing the conversations we have when anyone moves in with Anchor.

Activities and even general conversations are often centred around the assumption that relationships are heterosexual and this fosters a sense of isolation for older LGBT people.

As a result, going forward, activity programmes in Anchor care homes will include celebrations of LGBT events and cultures. Through training, we are also helping staff to understand the needs and aspirations of LGBT customers.

This is also reflected in our recruitment process, where we ensure each candidate is suitable to work with Anchor’s values and behaviour framework concerning LGBT equality. We have also set up an Equality and Diversity staff group following the project.

Middlesex University and Anchor are keen that other care providers are able to provide inclusive care for all older people, so the team has put together an audit tool which will help other organisations in the sector ensure their care homes are LGBT friendly, helping them look at their services and practices through the eyes of an older LGBT person. Often discrimination is not intended, but LGBT people’s needs just might not be considered.

The LGBT audit tool can be downloaded from Anchor’s website.     CMM

Brenda Metcalfe is Customer Engagement Manager at Anchor. Email: Twitter: @Anchor_Trust

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