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Equal opportunities

Key information on equal opportunity issues specific to the sector.

There are efforts to recruit from a more diverse workforce (including men and ethnic minority groups) to match the service needs of the local community and to help alleviate staff shortages. But TOPSS argues that more could be done, despite some local successes (see London).

Equal opportunities rights should also be strengthened by the new national minimum standards requiring public and private care providers to have in place a recruitment policy that is based on equal opportunities and ensures the protection of service users.

For further sources on equal opportunity issues see Research.


The social care workforce is predominantly female, estimated to constitute at least 80% of the workforce. Societal stereotypes of what is considered to be suitable work and also the low pay structure in the sector are seen as key deterrents for men. According to workforce figures of social services departments in England, domiciliary care has the highest percentage of women (96%), whereas most men can be found as part of central/strategic/head quarter staff (27%) and day care staff (25%).

Women also dominate among the higher skilled workforce, as they account for 76% of social workers and 80% of occupational therapists. Furthermore, they constitute by far the majority of managers and team leaders in many direct care areas, suggesting that the care sector offers better career opportunities for women than in parts of the economy. However, when seniority within in each occupational group is taken into account, more men than women had achieved a senior post.

A longitudinal study among social services staff concluded that, the number of full-time years in social care, the number of jobs in social care and educational level were most relevant in achieving a senior position, which, they stress, indirectly discriminates against women having to balance family and work.

Source: Department of Health 2004 and Ginn and Fisher 1999

For more information on gender and employment status of employees in the sector see:

Gender Employment levels in health and social work by gender and status, 2002-2012


It needs to be stressed that most of this information refers to the public sector, due to lack of data in the independent sector, despite calls for improved equal opportunities workforce data. Apparently, there are no statistical data on disability. A survey in a particular segment of the care sector reported that 1% of the 400 responding residential child care staff were disabled.

Source: Mainey 2003 and TOPSS 2000


Overall, 9% of staff in social services departments are known to be from ethnic minority groups, which is slightly above the figures for the working population in England (8.4%). Compared to the overall population, social services have attracted more black people and fewer staff from Asian origin.

Ethnic minority groups, are more often to be found in children services (15%) and social work (13%) than domiciliary care (6%) or occupational therapy (5%). However, figures need to be treated with some caution as for one in ten the ethnic origin was not known.

There are also some indications that ethnic minority groups are under-represented among senior managers. More than four in ten social service staff in inner London are known to be from ethnic minority groups, and nearly one in two care assistants and home carers, compared to 31% of the population.

Source: Department of Health 2004


The average age of care assistants and home carers, arguably the largest part of the social care workforce, has gone up in the last decade, as the sector has attracted more people aged 50 years and over and less people under the age of 25. There is some evidence from the domiciliary care sub-sector that private organisations were more successful in attracting younger people than social services departments.

Data from the statutory sector suggest that staff in children’s services tend to be younger than staff in domiciliary care for the elderly, thus reflecting the age structure of their clients. In the first group about a quarter were aged 50 years plus, compared to nearly half in the latter one. Occupational therapists also have a younger workforce.

Source: Eborall 2003a and Matthew 2001

Characteristics of UK health and social work sector, 2001/2002

Source: Skills for Health 2003, page 6. Compiled using Labour Force Survey 2001/2002.

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