UK confusion between integration and counter-terrorism hinders Muslims
The government's conflation of integration with counter-terrorism has exacerbated inequalities experienced by British Muslims, MPs have said.
Islamophobia, stereotyping, cultural traditions and insufficient role models have also contributed to Muslims experiencing the highest levels of unemployment among all religious and ethnic groups – 12.8% compared with 5.4% for the general population – according to the Commons women and equalities committee.
The report, called Employment Opportunities for Muslims in the UK, published by the committee on Thursday, calls on the government to introduce specific policies to help Muslims overcome these issues but directs some of its strongest concerns towards integration policy.
The MPs say that rather than focusing on issues such as language difficulties through the lens of counter-extremism, as they say happens at present, the emphasis should be on “how it improves the life chances of disadvantaged communities”.
The committee's chair, Maria Miller, said: “The government is making attempts to deal with the problems that Muslim people face in getting work but our analysis would be that their attempts are being undermined by this clear link that Muslim people are making between government policy on employment and government policy on counter-extremism.”
While acknowledging the importance of the counter-terrorism strategy, the committee said it had destroyed trust within Muslim communities to the extent that some individuals were reluctant to talk to its members for fear they were part of the controversial Prevent programme.
The report highlights that as well as experiencing the highest levels of unemployment, 41% of Muslims are economically inactive, compared with 21.8% of the general population. But it bemoaned the lack of data on Muslims, which it said must be addressed to help devise the government's response to the inequalities.
Other recommended policies, include possible legislation to introduce name-blind recruitment by employers, local budgets for Jobcentre Plus offices to fund targeted support in areas with high levels of Muslim unemployment and a dedicated careers service for minority ethnic students in universities.
The committee says there is a particularly pressing need to help women, who, it says, face the triple issue of being female, BME (black and minority ethnic) and Muslim and face the most barriers, when job-hunting and once in work. Millar said she was personally shocked by the inequalities they face. “It was made very clear to us that Muslim women face very real stereotypes to counter – both in the workplace and in their community – with respect to work.”
The inquiry heard evidence that traditional family pressures holding that women are homemakers and the lack of women in governance roles at mosques, are among the obstacles preventing Muslim women fulfilling their potential. To counter these, the committee suggests mosques should promote opportunities for women and the government should introduce a role models and mentoring programme aimed at Muslim women.
It also says employers should be made aware of their legal duties with respect to discrimination, especially with respect to women who may wear cultural or religious clothing.
The MPs want the government to come up with a plan by the end of the year to tackle the inequalities it has highlighted.
Farah Elahi, research and policy analyst at a race equality thinktank, the Runnymede Trust, welcomed the report and said it was time for government action. “The government should be concerned about these issues because they are legitimate [in their own right], not just through the prism of counter-terrorism.”
A government spokeswoman said: “We want all people, regardless of their faith or gender to have access to the same opportunities so that they can reach their full potential. We are making progress – for example, there are now 45% more Muslim women in work than in 2011 – but we know there is much more to do. We will look carefully at the recommendations and respond in due course.”