Young Muslims in the UK face enormous social mobility challenge, research finds

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Office meeting800x450

Research published by the Social Mobility Commission and involved Oxford Brookes University, has found that young Muslims in the UK face an enormous social mobility challenge and are being held back from reaching their full potential.

The research, led by Sheffield Hallam University, 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 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, 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%) of the Muslim population is in full-time employment, compared to more than one in three (34.9%) 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. 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. 

The body of the report’s findings, however, is based on the views of young Muslims themselves expressed through structured and in-depth focus groups. 

Farhana Ghaffar, Widening Participation Researcher at Oxford Brookes University who worked on the study, explained to The Guardian why she was shocked by the findings: “It ranged from assumptions that they were forced to wear the headscarf to jokes and casual comments in the workplace about Muslims. Or every time there was a terror attack there was a feeling of a need to apologies and explain.”

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. 

In a separate article The Guardian highlighted a project run by Oxford Brookes University and Oxford Central Mosque which aims to improve the social mobility of young Muslims in Oxford. The mentoring project connects students from Oxford Brookes and the University of Oxford with the children to tutor them in English and Maths. 

Sobia Afridi, who manages the project at Oxford Brookes, told the publication: “It is through a community-based approach that we can really make a difference to social mobility and raise the aspirations of Muslim youngsters.”

The Social mobility challenges faced by young Muslims report can be read on the Social Mobility Commission website.