Addressing Ethnicity-Related Challenges in Access to Public and Private Services: A Guide for Organisations

  • 04/03/2019
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Addressing Ethnicity-Related Challenges in Access to Public and Private Services: A Guide for Organisations


Organisations frequently perceive cultures as a barrier in their communication with individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds. In our experience, ethnic minority communities are often labelled as "hard to reach" by statutory services. However, it could be argued that it is actually statutory services that are challenging for people from various ethnic minorities to access.

Where should we draw the line? Or better yet, how do we eliminate such lines and work to bridge these gaps in understanding and accessibility?


A Conceptual Perspective on Ethnicity

The concept of ethnicity pertains to the collective cultural characteristics that define a community and, by extension, shape the identities of its members. 

It encompasses various qualitative elements, in contrast to the often-misused term "race." These elements include language, traditions, history, ancestry, and frequently, religious, and behavioural practices. 

Most of us identify with at least one ethnicity, while many may identify with multiple ethnicities simultaneously, or with none to the fullest extent.

Challenges arise when we encounter communication barriers with individuals who do not share the same ethnicity as us or -from the opposite perspective- when people find themselves in a place where most individuals around them do not share the same ethnicity as them. 

This process takes part when people migrate to a different country, leading to the classification of their communities as "ethnic minorities."


Ethnic Minorities in the UK

According to data from the British Government, the term "ethnic minorities" refers to "all ethnic groups except the white British group," inclusive of white minorities like Gypsy, Roma, and Irish Traveller communities. In the 2021 census for England and Wales, approximately 74.4% of the population identified as "White British," leaving 26.6% representing people from ethnic minorities, with the most prominent groups including "White Other" (6.2%), Indian (3.1%), and Pakistani (2.7%).

26.6% is a substantial section of the population that necessitates equitable access to both public and private services. This prompts us to revisit the question: Does ethnicity pose challenges to accessing these services in the UK?


Language Barriers

As mentioned earlier, cultural traits can be both unifying and differentiating factors among populations worldwide. For migrant communities, these differences can create barriers when accessing information, services, resources, and considering options and opportunities available to them. 

A significant portion of statutory and non-statutory services cite language as a barrier when engaging with people from ethnic minorities. If individuals do not speak the same language, service providers cannot facilitate clear communication, resulting in potential misinterpretations and deficiencies.

However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Language plays a deeper role, and many organisations are not aware of how crucial understanding this reality can be for their service quality.

Take, for example, the Shona word "Kufungisisa," which holds a profound cultural weight. While it translates to "thinking too much" or "overthinking," its Shona meaning extends to include the cause and symptoms of common mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorders.

In a hypothetical scenario where a member of the Shona community seeks mental health support services in the UK using the term "overthinking" to describe their problem, a healthcare provider might misinterpret the gravity of the situation due to the differing meanings attached to the same word.

This example illustrates how language can serve as a significant barrier. Organisations must be aware of these complexities to provide high-quality service to every individual residing in the UK. It’s their responsibility to address these challenges and take proactive steps towards bettering their operations. 


We remain at the tip of the iceberg

Language is not the sole barrier faced by ethnic minorities. Numerous cultural practices and expectations play roles in communication between people from different backgrounds, alongside factors like religious practices, gender, and taboos.
Furthermore, organisations regularly encounter mistrust from minoritised communities due to their fears of racial discrimination and stereotyping. 

In a country where laws protect citizens from discrimination based on race, nationality, or ethnic origin, it is indispensable that both public and private sector organisations incorporate comprehensive policies concerning Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). Furthermore, it is essential for their staff members to possess awareness of the cultural barriers prevalent in our communities and receive training in best practices to eradicate these barriers within the workplace and throughout service provision.


Breaking Barriers: A Workshop

Vandu Languages not only provides language services in the UK but also offers cross-cultural training for public organisations and private businesses. 

Our "Breaking Barriers” Workshop, developed by our Language Ambassador, Sabah Kaiser, former Ethnic Minority Ambassador to IICSA (The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse), addresses barriers that ethnic minority groups may encounter when communicating with statutory or non-statutory services. 

If you would like to book a training session for your team, please feel free to contact us at or call us at 01273 473986.

The training is designed for organisations or teams that work with vulnerable clients, as well as service providers seeking to establish effective safeguarding procedures for the protection of all individuals within the communities they serve.
Some of the barriers that may be discussed in the workshop are race, culture, language, gender, sexuality, mistrust of services, stereotyping and invisible biases. The training looks at each barrier’s meaning and impact, delivering suggestions and ways your service could challenge or even overcome these barriers, transforming the workshop into a tailored programme for the specific needs of your organisation.

The learning objectives are:

- Identify the key barriers faced by ethnic minority communities.
- Evaluate the impact of these barriers on communities.
- Develop forward-thinking solutions to address these barriers for future implementation in organisational policies.


There are two versions of this training course, a half-day where we focus on one chosen barrier or a full day where we look at three key barriers. The workshop can be delivered in person, virtually or hybrid. 


Book A Spot with Us!

If you seek further information about this training for organisations, or if you would like to book a training session for your team, please feel free to contact us at or call us at 01273 473986

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