Muslim people suffer the greatest economic disadvantages of any group in society. Unemployment rates for Muslims are more than twice that of the general population (12.8% compared to 5.4%) and 41% are economically inactive, compared to 21.8% of the general population. The disadvantage is greater still for Muslim women: 65% of economically inactive Muslims are women. We have found the reasons behind this to be varied and complex. They include: discrimination and Islamophobia, stereotyping, pressure from traditional families, a lack of tailored advice around higher education choices, and insufficient role models across education and employment.
The Government has given a clear commitment to tackling disadvantage for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people but this has to be coupled with a coherent cross-Government plan focused on specific groups, including Muslims. Initiatives currently lack measurable results and an overarching strategy clearly owned by ministers. We do not underestimate the challenges the Government faces in tackling extremism, but the conflation of integration with counter-extremism has exacerbated inequalities experienced by Muslims. The Government needs to tackle the disadvantages faced by Muslims in their own right, not through the lens of counter-extremism.
The Government must also address a lack of data collection on the experiences of specific ethnic and religious communities. The lack of data regarding Muslim people in Britain today makes it difficult to undertake a detailed analysis of economic inactivity and a range of other issues. If we are to understand how best to support this disadvantaged group there needs to be better data on which to base the Government’s policies. This is a significant barrier to work towards equality. The 2020 challenge and the McGregor Smith and Parker reviews must include specific policies to address the disadvantages faced by Muslim people. The Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission should also do more to raise awareness of what constitutes illegal discrimination and how to challenge it. The Government should roll out name-blind recruitment to all employers, legislating if necessary.
Where pockets of high Muslim unemployment are identified, Jobcentre Plus must deliver programmes focused on improving labour market participation for Muslim people through the introduction of localised budgets. In higher education, more needs to be done to address the lack of parity at Russell Group universities and the attainment gap that exists in drop-out rates, class of degree awarded and employment after graduating. We welcome the Government’s commitment to introduce a transparency duty to monitor inequality in higher education, but this needs to be drilled down by narrower ethnicity categories to be able to identify and tackle pockets of inequalities that affect specific groups of people.
The impact of the very real inequality, discrimination and Islamophobia that Muslim women experience is exacerbated by the pressures that some women feel from parts of their communities to fulfil a more traditional role. The Equality Act applies to everyone and all women, regardless of faith should be free to make their own choices about all aspects of their lives, including education, employment and dress, and subsequently be empowered to overcome the disadvantages they may face. We call on the Government to introduce a role models and mentoring programme aimed at Muslim women to help them realise their potential in employment.
3 August 2016