Muslims are the most disadvantaged group in Britain, MPs find

Conflation of integration and counter-terrorism policies is hindering progress

Image: Christine Matthews

Muslims in Britain suffer the most economic disadvantages of any social group, with an unemployment rate more than twice that of the general population, a new report finds.

The report, published today by parliament’s Women and Equalities committee, shows that Muslim women are especially affected by inequality, discrimination and Islamophobia, both while looking for work and while in work.

‘This report underlines the positive contributions of Muslims across the UK, and the urgent need to make equality of opportunity a reality for people of every faith and background,’ commented committee chair Maria Miller.

She added that the committee ‘heard evidence that stereotypical views of Muslim women can act as a barrier to work,’ although the report also states that the problems may be ‘exacerbated by the pressures that some women feel from parts of their communities to fulfil a more traditional role.’

The report also raises concerns that the conflation of counter-extremism and integration policies — like David Cameron’s plan to combat extremism by teaching Muslim women English —are hindering progress towards equality.

It reads:

“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.”

Miller specifically cited Prevent as a source of tension, which undermines trust between the government and Muslim communities, saying that the committee ‘came across individual Muslims who were reluctant to speak to us for fear that our enquiry was part of the Prevent programme.’

The committee believes that this limits the efficacy of government interventions, because Muslims are wary of engaging with state programmes or institutions when they feel they will be treated as a ‘suspect community’.

The report offers a string of recommendations to government, including:

  • Adopting an approach to integration focused on improving the life chances of disadvantaged communities rather than through the lens of counter-extremism.
  • Encouraging name-blind recruitment.
  • Improving the quality of data available on the experiences of Muslims in the UK.
  • Providing better education, language training and mentoring programmes to Muslim women.
  • Making it clear to employees what constitutes illegal discrimination, in order to combat Islamophobia.
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