UK Muslims 'at greater risk of unemployment due to discrimination'

Report finds counterparts from other socio-economic groups have more success in Britain's job market

UK Muslims are being disadvantaged by employers, a study has found. PA
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Muslims in the UK have a significantly greater probability of unemployment than their white British Christian counterparts, a study has found.

Research published in the Ethnic and Racial Studies journal has revealed there is a “religious and colour” penalty at play in the British labour market.

University of Bristol researcher Samir Sweida-Metwally, who carried out the research, said his study indicates discrimination in the employment market towards Muslims.

“The findings offer evidence against the view that Muslims’ poor employment outcomes in Britain are due to their so-called ‘sociocultural attitudes’,” he said.

“In challenging this narrative, which problematises Muslims and their faith, the study lends support to the overwhelming evidence from field experiments that shows anti-Muslim discrimination towards Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim to be a significant barrier to them accessing work.

“Overall, the evidence indicates support for the thesis that there is both a religious [Muslim] and colour [black] penalty at play in the British labour market. Confirming previous research, religion is a much better predictor of unemployment and inactivity for women, whereas for men, both colour and religion are important.”

Mr Sweida-Metwally said there was evidence of a “Muslim penalty” in the employment market and has rejected previous suggestions that it was due to cultural and religious practices.

“In Britain, evidence suggests that Muslims experience the greatest faith penalty relative to any other religious group even after adjusting for education, age, region, language proficiency and health,” he said.

“In terms of ethnic penalties, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Black Africans and Caribbeans are frequently found to be the most disadvantaged relative to the white majority.”

Using 10 years of data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study, which carries out a yearly analysis of the socio-economic situations of 100,000 people, it found that among men, black Caribbeans were at highest risk of unemployment, while in women, Pakistanis were at the greatest risk of joblessness.

“Sociocultural variables such as gender attitudes, language proficiency and the extent of inter and intra-ethnic social ties are not a convincing source of the unexplained ethno-religious differences in labour market participation and unemployment among Muslim men and women,” Mr Sweida-Metwally said.

He found that Arab men of no religion were also among those with the highest likelihood of being unemployed.

“[This] might suggest that perceived 'Muslimness' is more important for predicting religious disadvantage among men than actual attachment to the faith,” he said.

“The risk of a penalty, particularly in terms of unemployment, remained considerably high for black African and black Caribbean men, irrespective of whether they subscribed to a faith tradition, providing strong evidence in support of previous research which established that the British labour market is hierarchised based on skin colour.

“The analyses summarised in this paper provide important new findings regarding labour market stratification by ethno-religious background. The paper questions the contention that, amongst men, the ethnic penalty is best understood as resulting primarily from two penalties [colour and religion], and suggests that a country-of-origin penalty may also be at play.”

Updated: July 18, 2022, 1:01 PM
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