New Muslim Census data on the cost of living highlights the struggles that Muslim households in the UK are facing
Categories: Latest News
Thursday November 10 2022
The Muslim Census has released its most recent report on the cost-of-living crisis, highlighting the staggering challenges Muslim households in the UK face. According to the study, more than 75% of Muslims had difficulty paying for gas, electricity, household groceries and clothing in the past year. Meanwhile, nearly one-third of Muslims in the UK have had to skip meals to pay their household bills. As a result of financial pressures, 65% of British Muslims have taken out some form of debt to cover their daily expenses and bills since August 2021, whether through credit card debt, an overdraft, a buy now, pay later scheme, or having to take out a long term or pay-day loan. Their survey of 1,568 Muslims captures the grim reality of the cost-of-living crisis.
Examining the Government Income Distribution Data (2016 to 2019), we see that the two largest ethnic groups of British Muslims, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, are more likely to be in the two lowest quintiles for household income than any other ethnic groups. It is thus evident that Muslim households are disproportionately at risk of falling into poverty.
Muslim Census and several Islamic charities have warned that the effects on the Muslim community will significantly deteriorate as the UK financial crisis worsens. According to data from the Muslim Census, 19% of all British Muslims relied on food banks in the last 12 months. Of those, 65% used food banks within the last three months. Overall, Muslims are 60% worse off than they were a year ago. Data from the National Zakat Foundation (NZF) suggests a similar picture, as applications to their hardship relief, which pays for costs associated with daily needs, increased by ‘90% year-on-year’. However, due to a lack of Zakat receipts and, on the other hand, the rising cost of living crisis, relief organisations worry that they won’t be able to keep up with the Muslim community’s mounting demands in the foreseeable future.
The latest findings and those from previous studies demonstrate an undeniable and alarming pattern of poverty in UK Muslims. Previous reports found that nearly half of British Muslims (46%) live in the poorest 10% of local authority districts. They also earn the least of any religious group and have experienced poverty at a rate ten times higher than the general population since the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, this disparity is usually argued to be a socio-cultural issue where religiosity, traditionalist views and lower civic participation of Muslims are associated with higher unemployment rates. However, such views are dispelled by research which concludes that a Muslim’s affiliation with religion outweighs ethnic ties to poverty in that:
‘White Muslims are nearly twice as likely (30%) to find themselves in poverty as whites (16 %). Similarly, around 56 % of Black African Muslims are in poverty compared to 37 % of the Black African group as a whole. A substantial number of Indians in the UK are Muslims, and 38% of them are also poor compared with the overall figure for Indians of 23%’.
“Our findings suggest that Muslims, after taking account of their ethnic background, are indeed more likely to be in poverty than are members of other religions or those with no religious affiliation”. (Heath and Li, 2015)
A further study corroborated these findings, emphasising the prevalence of discrimination against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim as a driving factor for the adverse employment outcomes of UK Muslims. Their economic standing results from structural discrimination of different types, including discriminatory housing policies, ‘white-flight’, racism and Islamophobia, and that poverty will exacerbate if these issues are not tackled at their root.
Poverty, particularly for children, has well-documented and long-term consequences for educational attainment, careers, health, and well-being. With an estimated 9.7% of Muslims (under 18) compared with the overall 5.7% Muslim population in England and Wales, young Muslims will not only be impacted by the risks of poverty but may find it more difficult to escape due to financial constraints. These claims are supported by the Social Mobility report in 2017, which shows that ‘upward social mobility for Muslims’ directly correlates with ‘socio-economic capital and financial security’. Moreover, the widespread effects of child poverty on adults imply that ‘Britain will be living with the consequences of racial inequality into the 2100s’. In fact, around 60% of Bangladeshi children (who make up the majority of the UK Muslim population) are already impoverished, which is the highest child poverty rate. Consequently, Muslim families with children fear that the cost-of-living crisis will intensify already-existing inequalities, widen the wealth gap between them and the rest of the UK population, and eventually push them into irreversible destitution.
As 2022 draws to a close, the UK has been dubbed the ‘year of permacrisis’ due to its ‘extended period of instability and insecurity’. The government is unquestionably confronted with numerous challenges, including its tanking economy. Meanwhile, having only recently emerged from COVID-19, Muslim households face the prospect of poverty. It is clear that the UK’s social security system in the UK falls short of what is required to reduce the poverty gap between Muslims and the wider population. Therefore, MEND urges the government to take ethnic factors into account in their commitment to ‘levelling up’ whilst also providing imminent support to those most vulnerable to destitution. We additionally urge them to tackle the systemic inequalities, such as persistent discrimination, which have contributed significantly to the economic disparities faced by BAME and Muslim communities.