68% of Muslims in England and Wales live in areas with high unemployment

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More than two-thirds of the Muslim community in England and Wales reside in areas with the highest rates of unemployment, analysis shows.

About 2.6 million Muslims live in local authorities where more than one in 20 of the population aged 16 to 64 is unemployed, according to analysis of census data, prompting fresh calls from campaigners for the levelling up agenda to also focus on young British Muslims.

The Guardian analysis comes as new figures from ONS show people who identified as Muslim in England and Wales had the highest rate of unemployment among religious groups in 2021, which stood at 6.7%.

About 68% of the total Muslim population in England and Wales live in areas with the highest unemployment, compared with 26% of Christians and 25% of respondents who said they did not follow a religion.


The analysis showed that a third of the population in Birmingham and Newham, east London, identified as Muslim, and these are – together with Wolverhampton – the local authorities with the highest unemployment rate, with 7% of their working-age population looking for a job.

The Muslim community’s rate of unemployment is about twice that of the Jewish and Christian community, which stood at 3.1% and 3.8% in 2021.

This difference was more marked in younger age groups, with the unemployment rate for Muslims aged 20 to 24 years old at 13% in 2021, compared with 9% of the overall population.

The ONS suggests the younger age profile of this group is a contributing factor as to why Muslims in England and Wales had the lowest rates of employment. Those who identified as Muslims are generally a younger cohort than other religions and more likely to be studying. The percentage of students among those who said they were Muslim was almost twice that of the overall population.

The ONS notes that reasons for being “economically inactive” varied significantly between different religious. Working-age Muslims who were economically inactive were the most likely to be studying, at 13.8%, compared with 7.3% of the overall population. This cohort was also most likely to be looking after family and home, with 16.1% of economically inactive Muslims giving this reason, compared with 5.8% for the overall population.

Last year a study confirmed the existence of a “Muslim penalty” in the employment market but rejected previous suggestions that it was due to cultural and religious practices. The study, published in the peer-reviewed Ethnic and Racial Studies journal, found discrimination towards Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim to be a significant barrier to them accessing work.

The census 2021 was taken in May during the pandemic and people in furlough were asked to record themselves as employed, although some may have said they were out of work instead, the ONS cautioned. The religion question is voluntary and refers to the religion with which people connect or identify, rather their beliefs or active practice.

The Labour MP Afzal Khan, who is vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims said: “We know that British Muslims are more likely to live in areas of the country where social problems like unemployment are more prevalent. There are many reasons for that, some dating back to the 1960s and 70s. It’s vital that the Department for Work and Pensions study this data carefully to make sure that programmes to reduce unemployment like Restart are working for all communities. Right now, I am far from convinced that is the case.”

A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain said: “The inter-generational cycles of poverty impacting British Muslim communities can result in young people being forced to leave education in pursuit of work so they can help support their families. Those that are able to break into the job market, pursuing chosen careers, can face Islamophobic prejudice and discrimination in the workplace.

“The post Covid-19 economic reality is that ‘levelling up’ is not just a priority for our rural communities. Targeted support is needed in the heart of inner cities where minority ethnic and Muslim populations may reside. The government must begin levelling up for young British Muslims by addressing key areas of concern such as health inequalities and access to higher education and housing, while also tackling barriers to securing and retaining employment.

“Given a level playing field, the dynamism and sheer potential of young British Muslims will prove itself to be strategic national asset.”