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Muslims and UK labour market access

Muslims and UK labour market access

Categories: Latest News

Monday August 15 2016

The Women and Equalities select committee published its inquiry report into Employment Opportunities for Muslims in the UK last week garnering copious media coverage over its recommendations on improving employment prospects of Muslim women, who suffer the highest rate of labour market exclusion, and differentiating integration policy from counter-terrorism policy in order to advance social mobility for Muslims in the UK.

The report draws on the committee’s examination of factors contributing to poor labour market access and outcomes for British Muslims as well as access to higher education and the transfer from graduate level education to graduate level employment for under-represented groups.

The committee’s recommendations rehearse much of what has already been known about the low level of female Muslim participation in the labour market, the barriers to access; stemming from poor career guidance in universities to the failure of job centres to support Muslim women with getting jobs, and the impact of anti-Muslim prejudice on employment opportunities for Muslims.

The body of literature rehearsing these problems dates back to at least 2003 when the Cabinet Office report on Ethnic Minorities and the UK Labour Market was able to utilise the religion data from the 2001 census to delineate the very particular disadvantages faced by British Muslims.

This early research was built on with subsequent reports all highlighting the disproportionately high levels of unemployment among British Muslim men and women and its wider effect in the form of employment discrimination and wage differentials.

Indeed, the data is so well established the question which we have consistently raised is why have policy interventions not followed to deal with poor data collection and employment outcomes for ethnic minorities and Muslims in particular.

In over a decade since 2005 when the Preventing Extremism Together working groups identified Muslim discrimination in society and the workplace as contributing factors to disenfranchisement, policy interventions have privileged counter-terrorism polices thus dealing with the few and showing far little regard for the problems faced by the majority of British Muslims for whom poor access to quality education and the labour market has a debilitating effect on social mobility and equality.

It is commendable that the Women and Equalities select committee had reiterated this policy imbalance as an obstacle to the broader objectives which should take priority in government policy: addressing the obstacles to Muslim integration.

In our general election manifesto in 2015, we reinforced the importance of addressing issues which have been highlighted in the select committee report, from access to shari’ah compliant loans for Muslim students applying for degree programmes to tackling religious discrimination in the workplace to the low level of economic activity among British Muslim women. We are pleased these recommendations are found in the select committee report even if the Conservative party’s manifesto for last year’s election omitted a particular commitment to BME access to employment opting for a generic commitment to making the labour market “more inclusive”.

But the repetition of recommendations, which have been voiced for more than a decade of reports highlighting Muslim experiences of labour market access and outcomes, is not sufficient if policy interventions do not follow.

It is interesting therefore to note that the former PM’s announcement of the Casey Review to examine “how to boost opportunity and integration” for disadvantaged groups is mentioned only twice in the select committee report and only as matter of detail.

The Casey review was announced in October 2015 in yet another demonstration of the Government’s conflation of counter-extremism and integration policy agendas, and it was due to report in the spring of 2016. With the end of the parliamentary year and a new term beginning in September, it is not clear when the Casey Review is likely to report or indeed why there has been no concern voiced over the delay of its findings.

Two further interventions, in the form of the 2020 Strategy and the Ruby MacGregor Smith review are underway. For Muslims who have gotten used to the headlines declaring their disadvantage in access to education and labour, the question remains: when will Government lay before us a strategy to tackle the problems and not satisfy itself with merely repeating what we have long known now? The time for talk is over. Let us see some action.


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