Publisher: Open Society Institute
Release Date: 2004


This timely contribution to the debate on the socio-economic circumstances of Britain’s 1.6 million Muslim community reviews the literature available, including analysis on Census 2001 data conducted by the Ethnic Minorities Employment Division, Department of Works and Pensions, and the report prepared in 2003 by the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, ‘Ethnic Minorities and the Labour Market’. It concludes that there is a disproportionate level of disadvantage faced by British Muslims in the labour market, notwithstanding the recently enacted Employment regulations relating to religious discrimination. Muslims constitute 3% of the UK population.

The report notes that a very high proportion of Muslims are in the younger age groups: the average age of Muslims is 28, 13 years below the national average. This has implications for their contribution to the work force in a time of demographic shrinkage and increase in the 60+ population. The author notes that “failing to meet the employment aspirations and needs of young Muslims will not only have economic costs but also create potential strains on social cohesion”.

Urgent action is needed to promote employability within the community, such as target-based polices for access to education, training and apprenticeship. At present Muslims are three times more likely to be unemployed than the majority Christian group. They have the lowest employment rate of any group, at 38% and the highest economic inactivity rate at 52%. At 17% per cent, Muslims represent the largest faith group who have never worked or are in long tem unemployment, compared to three per cent of the overall population. Over half of Muslims are economically inactive, compared to a third of all faith groups. In London, where over 40% of London’s population lives, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have the highest level of children in workless households, at 30-40%, compared to 20 per cent of their white counterparts.

The author notes that Islamic law does not forbid women to enter employment, “however cultural sensitively and preference should be respected as much as possible”. In addition to the ‘ethnic penalty’ that applies to Muslim men and women, the latter are more subject to a ‘Muslim penalty’ if they wear the hijab. Recommended policy actions in this area include work experience programmes – short periods of employment to help them assess whether employment is something they could, and would want to participate in, and also childcare provision.