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Young Muslims face social mobility barriers in the UK

YOUNG MUSLIMS living in the UK face an enormous social mobility challenge and are being held back from reaching their full potential at every stage of their lives, a report by 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.

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.

Only 6 per cent of Muslims are in 'higher managerial, administrative and professional occupations' compared to 10 per cent of the overall population. They also have slightly lower levels of qualifications, with approximately a quarter of Muslims over the age of 16 having ‘Level 4 and above’ (i.e. degree and above) qualifications (The Muslim Council of Britain, 2015).

Moreover, nearly half of the Muslim population (46 per cent) live in the 10 per cent of the most deprived local authority districts. This has implications for access to resources, school attainment, progression to higher education and the availability of jobs, including those at postgraduate or managerial levels. These inequalities vary by region, with the Midlands experiencing the largest margin of inequality and the South the smallest.

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.

“These are complex issues and it is vital they are the subject of mature consideration and debate. It is particularly important to hear from young people from the Muslim community and respond positively to them.

“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.”

Professor Jacqueline Stevenson, from Sheffield Hallam University, who led the research, 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.”

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