Employment opportunities for Muslims in the UK Contents

4Providing effective support to work

123.Statistics show that Muslim people experience the highest levels of unemployment levels in comparison to the whole population:

Table 1: Department for Work and Pensions, Labour Market Status statistics for whole population (Great Britain)
























Source: Department for Work and Pensions, Labour market status by ethnic group, April 2016

Table 2: Labour Market Status statistics for Muslim people

All Muslims






Employed %






Unemployed %






Inactive %






Source: Department for Work and Pensions (supplementary evidence) (MIE0036)

124.In this chapter we will examine the Prime Minister’s announcement of the 2020 targets to increase employment for BME people; as well as the adequacy of the support currently offered by Jobcentre Plus and the impact that the introduction of Universal Credit will have. We will also look at the reasons behind the higher unemployment levels and how employment barriers, such as language, childcare and employability skills, that are faced by some Muslim people can be overcome. We will discuss the impact of workplace discrimination in the next chapter.

Inter-Ministerial Group and the BME 2020 challenge

125.In Chapter 1, we discussed the Prime Minister’s plans to tackle the higher levels of unemployment experienced by BME people. These were announced during the 2015 General Election campaign; his plan is to increase by 20% the employment rates, participation in higher education, apprenticeships for people from BME backgrounds He also set 20% targets with regards to start up loans for entrepreneurs and representation in the police and Armed Forces.122

126.These 2020 targets are being coordinated by an Inter-Ministerial Group led by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. The Group held its first meeting in March 2016. 123

Criticism of the targets

127.The Runnymede Trust were critical of the 2020 targets and believe that they are a reflection of population changes in the diversity of those of working age, and consequently are easily achieved:

However, digging into the numbers, this commitment simply appears to reflect the changing makeup of the working age population over the next five years. Briefly, the older people retiring over the next five years are much less diverse than the younger people joining the labour market over that same period. The commitment to 660,000 more BME people in employment is therefore simply a statement of demographic change in Britain, and appears to require no action from the government to achieve.124

128.In evidence both Nick Boles and Priti Patel maintained that the targets were “stretching”: “I think they are stretching. It is important to be realistic also, and let’s make progress step by step.”125

129.Following the evidence session, we wrote to the Minister of State for Employment, Rt Hon Priti Patel MP and asked her to respond to the Runnymede Trust’s criticism of the targets; she replied:

We have set ourselves an ambitious goal for BME groups. Demographic change will doubtless have some impact on the target, however, success in meeting it will likely require far more than this.126

Jobcentre Plus and the provision of sensitive employment support

130.In their 2008 report, Increasing Employment Rates for Ethnic Minorities, the National Audit Office criticised the Department for Work and Pensions’ decision to move away from specialised programmes targeted at ethnic minority groups. It concluded that, “Unless the department is prepared to do more to reach out to ethnic minority communities, prospects for increasing their employment rates remain bleak”.127

131.In their 2015 report, Entry to, and progression in, work, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation argued that Jobcentre Plus should be able to access a localised budget to tackle unemployment experienced by specific groups of people:

A ring-fenced fund available to Jobcentre Plus offices (and pegged to the composition of the local unemployed population) could be used in a range of locally appropriate ways to encourage ethnic minority groups and recent migrants to engage with Jobcentre Plus, and provide more personalised support.128

132.In Chapter 2, we referred to the evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions which acknowledged inconsistencies in the level of employment support offered by Jobcentre Plus to Muslim women. In their supplementary written evidence, they outlined how they intend to improve the service people receive from Jobcentre Plus, by sharing best practice:

We have also identified Jobcentre Plus areas which seem to be particularly successful in supporting their local BME communities to move off of Jobseeker’s Allowance. We are working with these areas to identify good practice which we will share across the Jobcentre Plus network.129

133.The Joseph Rowntree Foundation also raised concerns in evidence to us that Jobcentre Plus staff lacked awareness of the name based discrimination faced by those with non-white sounding names:

For instance, if you did a straw poll of [Jobcentre Plus] advisers, how many would know that people with names that do not sound British have to send in almost twice as many CVs to get an interview? You might have someone who is not getting interviews and you are just telling them, “Send in more CVs.” You might not know that for that person it may not work, because they are not getting interviews.130

We will discuss the introduction of name-blind applications for some employers in Chapter 5.

Universal Credit

134.The introduction of Universal Credit will bring an additional 1 million families into household conditionality: those claiming Universal Credit as part of a couple must both accept the claimant commitment. As part of this commitment, even if someone is not expected to look for work (for example, if they have significant health problems or disabilities, are a lone parent or are the main carer of a child aged 3 or 4), they must take part in ‘work-focused interviews’ if asked to do so, in preparation for returning to work in the future.131

135.The Equality Impact Assessment published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2011, Conditionality, sanctions and hardship, recognises the impact that the roll-out of Universal Credit will have on people from an ethnic minority background, in particular those for whom English is not their first language. According to survey evidence from DWP, 17% of partners surveyed for Work Focused Interviews for Partners and New Deal for Partners were from an ethnic minority background, 88% of whom said that English was not their first language.132

136.ERSA also raised concerns with us that there was a lack of understanding amongst those affected, about what the implications of the roll-out of Universal Credit would be for them:

The application of conditionality to partners, might bring with it specific difficulties in relation to partners who, for whatever reason–including lack of English - may not understand the implications of these policy changes.133

137.In evidence, the Minister of State for Employment maintained that the Department were aware of the challenges but believed that they were prepared:

You are right with regard to universal credit and household conditionality, which will give the opportunity for women in the households to come into our Jobcentres and spend time with our work coaches. Importantly through that we can identify, yes, some barriers they may face to work or in terms of skills, and even if they need to upskill or have access to particular skills training. We are geared up to support them in those communities, and we are already doing plenty of work at a local level in our Jobcentres. 134

ESOL classes

138.ESOL classes aim to improve the English language skills of immigrants who have English as their second language. It is offered at different levels depending on a person’s skill level. Classes cover: speaking, listening, reading and writing, to more advanced qualifications that focus on spoken English for Work.135 ESOL classes were also discussed in Chapters 1 and 2.

139.In recent years, the ESOL budget (administered by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) has been reduced. In answer to a Parliamentary Question in February 2016, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Baroness Neville-Rolfe said that funding for adult skills budget ESOL provision had reduced from £203 million in 2009/10 to £104 million in 2014/15.136

140.When we questioned the Minister of State for Skills, Nick Boles MP, he suggested that cuts were made following low take-up as a result of rises in employment:

We cut the ESOL budget for a very simple reason, which is that unemployment, as we have all noticed and rejoiced, has tumbled. There was not a great deal of take-up on the specific ESOL funding for people who were on the point of accessing the job market but had barriers because of their command of English in that task.137

141.As discussed in Chapter 1, in January 2016, the Prime Minister announced an additional £20 million of funding for ESOL, “targeted to specific communities based on Louise Casey’s ongoing review into segregation in England.”138

142.ESOL classes have traditionally been taught in a classroom setting. We heard criticisms that that approach was too inflexible and inappropriate, and did not take into account needs such as basic literacy levels, learning disabilities, caring responsibilities, and work commitments. For example, Helen Barnard from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation told us:

One of the big issues is ESOL for people who are already doing low-paid work. An awful lot of these people are in and out of short-term jobs. Going to traditional ESOL classes is impossible if you are working agency and you are doing two jobs.139

143.Camden Council expressed concerns about the supply shortage of ESOL classes aimed at those entering the work place:

There is a challenge around providing vocational ESOL, i.e. not just ESOL in a conversational setting but, also, the kind of language you need in a work setting. Some of that is in shorter supply than is needed.140

Childcare as a barrier to employment

144.As we saw in Chapter 2, childcare also impacts on employment. We heard mixed evidence about the take-up of free childcare provision by Muslim parents. Where take-up is low, the reasons for this are complex and include: lack of knowledge; concerns about suitability; a preference for support from extended family; and lack of supply. In this section, we will explore these reasons in more detail.

Awareness of free childcare entitlement

145.The Department for Education held a marketing campaign in 2015 to increase take-up of childcare amongst specific groups of BME parents, in particular amongst Bangladeshi, Polish and Somali parents, where take-up is known to be low traditionally.141 We are not aware of any research being published into the effectiveness of this campaign.

Attitudes towards childcare

146.The students and alumni from the University of Bedfordshire that we met on our visit had concerns about the use of formal childcare. Some supported Muslim nurseries and day-care centres but said this was because of practical concerns about things like the provision of Halal food, rather than as a result of not wanting to integrate.

147.In Chapter 2 we discussed the impact of traditional attitudes towards Muslim women working. Nazim Akthar from Muslim Women’s Network UK raised concerns that for a small minority of Muslim women there is a stigma around the use of formal childcare from others in the Muslim community:

There is a stigma around Muslim women and mothers who are leaving their children with somebody else. That is why they feel like they need to keep them with a relative [ … ]. It does still exist in the Muslim community, in my opinion. Obviously, it is not across the board at all and it is a minority, but it does still exist.142

Use of informal childcare

148.For some Muslim parents there is a preference to use informal childcare as a means of children receiving cultural education, which some parents worry could be lost without this arrangement:

One of the advantages of children being raised with grandparents is that they keep some of the culture. That is a big issue behind all of that: that the children are brought up with a fair culture, if you like, and not onesided.143

149.Muslim Women’s Network UK raised the risks associated with using informal childcare, including a lack of vetting.144 They argued that more should be done to highlight the benefits of formal childcare for development:

More than anything, we need to highlight the benefits of this as well. A child of a young age should be able to interact more with other children their age or in a different environment. It is good for their growth.145

150.Research from the Family and Children Trust (formerly the Daycare Trust) has highlighted the risks associated with using some forms of informal childcare:

While most informal childcare is safe and nurturing, among a minority of disadvantaged families, informal childcare arrangements can be chaotic and disorientating for the child, as well as having the potential to be unsafe. The use of multiple, short-term forms of childcare can compromise children’s learning and emotional and social development. Very young babysitters and unregistered childminders have the potential to put children at risk.146

Supply of childcare

151.Current childcare provision is based around traditional working patterns (Monday to Friday, during the day). The Joseph Rowntree Foundation told us that more needed to be done to meet the childcare demands of parents who work in areas where the working day does not fit the traditional pattern:

Further research and practice is needed on improving the supply of childcare generally and for sessional or irregular childcare hours in particular. This is particularly relevant for ethnic minority groups who often work irregular, night or weekend hours (e.g. in restaurants, hotels, or as taxi drivers).147

Conclusions and recommendations

Our key recommendations are:

152.We are concerned that eight years on from the NAO’s report, Increasing Employment Rates for Ethnic Minorities, issues relating to the lack of localised support to target unemployment amongst specific ethnic minority groups have not been addressed. The Government needs to equip Jobcentre Plus staff with the tools and training to improve their understanding of employment issues faced by Muslim people. Where targeted pilot schemes are successful, best practice should be shared widely. In areas where there are high levels of Muslim unemployment, the Department for Work and Pensions should introduce tailored support and local budgets to fund targeted support, and regularly publish outcomes of the schemes.

153.Household conditionality under Universal Credit may affect up to 1 million families, including people who have not previously engaged with employment support services. There should be additional tailored support for those who are disproportionately affected, such as those with language barriers. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) must be fully prepared to provide additional support, including working with specialist third party organisations, to those affected by household conditionality through Universal Credit. Before the roll-out of Universal Credit, DWP should introduce a campaign targeted at those who will be affected to raise awareness of the implications of household conditionality and avoid potential disengagement.

154.This inquiry has heard, that while not an issue exclusively for those from Muslim communities, there are a significant minority of Muslim women and men for whom ESOL is vital in facilitating access to and progression within employment. The £20 million fund should include an evaluation of the outcomes and cost-effectiveness of community-based learning to support those with a wide range of needs from caring responsibilities, to disabilities and illiteracy, with a view to increasing provision of this kind of support if the evaluation shows it to have been effective.

We also recommend:

155.That the Department for Education should build on its work that raised awareness of free childcare provision amongst groups whose take up was low. Where a targeted campaign is run, they should equip local authorities and Jobcentre Plus advisers to address the concerns of Muslim women around making use of childcare provision, and monitor subsequent take-up.

122 Conservative Home, ‘Cameron’s message to ethnic minority voters’, 25 April 2015, accessed 13 June 2016

123 Business Secretary: “More must be done to ensure BME workers get more job opportunities, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Work and Pensions press release, 9 March 2016

125 Q147 [Nick Boles MP]

126 Department for Work and Pensions (supplementary evidence) (MIE0036)

128 Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Entry to, and progression in, work, 2015

129 Department for Work and Pensions (supplementary evidence) (MIE0036)

131 Child Poverty Action Group, Universal Credit: what do you need to know, 3rd edition, 2015

132 Department for Work and Pensions, Conditionality, sanctions and hardship: Equality impact assessment, October 2011

133 Employment Related Services Association (MIE0007)

135 Trinity College London, ‘ESOL English language qualifications’, accessed 14 June 2016

136 PQ HL5306 [on English Language: Education] 21 January 2016

138 ’Passive tolerance’ of separate communities must end, says PM”, Prime Minister’s Office press release, 18 January 2016

140 Ibid.

141 Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (MIE0030)

144 Q66 [Nazim Akthar]

147 Joseph Rowntree Foundation (MIE0010)

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3 August 2016