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Young Muslims in UK face enormous social mobility challenge

Media centre home > News > Young Muslims in UK face enormous social mobility challenge

Issued:06/09/17

Young Muslims in the UK face an enormous social mobility challenge and are being held back from reaching their full potential, research by Sheffield Hallam University and the Social Mobility Commission has found.

The report uncovers significant barriers to improved social mobility for young Muslims from school through university and into the workplace – with many reporting experience of islamophobia, discrimination and racism.

Previous analysis by the Social Mobility Commission, an independent advisory body, found that young people from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds are more likely than ever to succeed in education and go on to university than other groups - particularly girls.

Despite their successes, however, this did not translate into the labour market and Muslims experience the greatest economic disadvantages of any faith group in UK society.

Based on in-depth focus groups and interviews conducted by a team of academics led by Sheffield Hallam University, the new research explores the attitudes and reasons behind this broken ‘social mobility promise’ by examining young Muslims’ perceptions and experiences of growing up and seeking work in Britain.

Within the economically active population (age 16-74 years) only one in five (19.8 per cent) of the Muslim population is in full-time employment, compared to more than one in three (34.9 per cent) of the overall population (in England and Wales).

Muslim women in the UK are more likely than all other women to be economically inactive with 18 per cent of Muslim women aged 16 to 74 recorded as “looking after home and family” compared with 6 per cent in the overall population.

Moreover, nearly half of the Muslim population (46 per cent) live in the 10 per cent of the most deprived local authority districts.

Overall the research suggests that young Muslims feel a real challenge in maintaining their identity while seeking to succeed in Britain. They felt worried about being different and unsure about whether getting on was compatible with their identity as Muslims. Some responded by asserting their Muslim identity, although in some cases this constrained the career choices they made. Others felt there was a pressure to hide their Muslim identity and so avoid the issue that way.

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said: “The British social mobility promise is that hard work will be rewarded. Unfortunately, for many young Muslims in Britain today this promise is being broken.

“This report paints a disturbing picture of the challenges they face to making greater social progress. Young Muslims themselves identify cultural barriers in their communities and discrimination in the education system and labour market as some of the principal obstacles that stand in their way. Young Muslim women face a specific challenge to maintain their identity while seeking to succeed in modern Britain. 

“There are no easy or straightforward solutions to the issues they have raised. But a truly inclusive society depends on creating a level playing field of opportunity for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background. That will require renewed action by government and communities, just as it will by educators and employers.”

The research was led by Professor Jacqueline Stevenson, head of research at Sheffield Hallam's Sheffield Institute of Education.

Professor Stevenson said: “Muslims are excluded, discriminated against, or failed, at all stages of their transition from education to employment. Taken together, these contributory factors have profound implications for social mobility.

“Young Muslims in the UK come from a wide range of backgrounds and life situations. Muslims from low socio-economic backgrounds lack sufficient resources and support to enable them to reach their potential. This is exacerbated by their parents’ experiences of higher levels of underemployment and unemployment, particularly where their qualifications were not recognised in the UK.”

For a full version of the report, please go to https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/social-mobility-commission

For further information, please contact: Kirsty Walker 07768 446167 or kirsty.walker@education.gov.uk