‘Stark inequalities’ in housing and health among religious groups, census shows

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There are “stark inequalities” in levels of home ownership, education and good health across religious groups in England and Wales, new census data shows.

People who identify as Muslim are nearly four times more likely to live in overcrowded homes than the overall population while those who told the census they are Christian are less likely to have a high-level qualification such as a degree.

Those who identify as Hindu have the lowest prevalence of disability and the highest percentages of good health.

Some of the difference is down to the age profile of religious groups but other factors are likely to have contributed including income, employment and cultural background, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The census took place in England and Wales on March 21 2021 and included a range of questions on housing, education and wellbeing, as well as asking everyone to indicate which group best described their religion.

Among the 3.9 million people in England and Wales who told the census they were Muslim, 32.7% lived in overcrowded homes, compared with 8.4% of the overall population.

The figures for people identifying as Hindu (14.9%), Sikh (14.9%) and Buddhist (10.9%) were also above the national level, while those for Jewish (6.7%) and Christian (6.2%) were below.

People who identified as Muslim are more likely to live in social rented homes – such as from a council or housing association – with 26.6% saying they lived in this type of accommodation, 10 points higher that the overall population (16.6%) and well above the figures for Christian (14.2%), Buddhist (13.2%), Jewish (5.3%), Hindu (4.6%) and Sikh (4.5%).

By contrast, more than three-quarters (77.7%) of those who identified as Sikh live in households that own their home, the highest for any religious group.

Over two-thirds of people identifying as Jewish (71.2%), Hindu (67.9%) and Christian (68.6%) live in households that own their home while the figure drops to 56.7% for those identifying as Buddhist and 45.6% as Muslim.

People in the Christian group are most likely to live in households that own their home outright (36.0%), with no outstanding mortgage or loan repayments – 8.9 percentage points higher than the overall population (27.1%).

Responding to the findings, Jesse Ransley, of the ONS said: “It’s important to recognise that age profiles vary among the different religious affiliation groups in England and Wales.

“Those who identified as Christian, for example, tended to be older, and those who identified as Muslim younger.

“But this by no means accounts for all the differences in life outcomes for people of different religious affiliations we see in today’s analysis, with some stark inequalities evident.”

Those who told the census they are Muslim have the youngest average age (27) of any religious group and also the lowest percentage of people living in households that own their home outright (16.0%).

People identifying as Christian have a median average age of 51 years, compared with 40 years for the overall population, suggesting “that they may have had time to pay off a mortgage or loan”, the ONS said.

The census also asked people to rate their health as “very good”, “good”, “fair”, “bad” or “very bad”.

People who identified as Hindu had the highest percentage of their population reporting either “very good” or “good” health (87.8%), compared with 82.0% of the overall population and 79.0% who identified as Christian.

The figure was 85.4% among those identifying as Muslim, 85.2% as Jewish, 84.9% as Sikh and 81.9% as Buddhist.

When asked education, more than half (54.8%) of people identifying as Hindu told the census they have a higher-level qualification, such as a degree or NVQ level 4 to 5, compared with just under a third of people who said they were Muslim (32.3%) or Christian (31.6%).

This category had the largest variation across religious groups, with the percentage for the Hindu group being 21.0 points higher than that for the overall population, while the Christian group is 2.2 points lower.

Groups with the highest percentages for no qualifications were Muslim (25.3%), Sikh (22.4%) and Christian (20.8%).

Factors affecting all these trends can “often overlap”, as for example those in poor health or caring for others may be less able to work or gain education, while “income, where people live, and cultural background, will also have an influence on outcomes”, the ONS added.