Why are UK Muslims struggling most in the cost of living crisis?
The cost of living crisis in the UK has disproportionately affected British Muslims, with mosques taking a lead in providing frontline support.
As shown by the 2021 census results, the UK’s Muslim community has grown over the last decade. This means that now 6.5% of UK citizens are members of the faith. However, as the cost of living crisis continues to deepen over the winter, both studies and first-hand experiences show how Muslim communities are among the worst affected.
Why are UK Muslims most exposed to the cost of living crisis?
The issue of rising levels of poverty among British Muslims had been ongoing prior to 2022. According to a report published by the National Zakat Foundation, the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected Muslims in early 2021. This has led to Muslims being 10 times more likely to fall into poverty than the UK average. In particular, Muslims were 6 times more likely to lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic than the rest of the population.
The economic risks to which Muslims were more likely to be exposed have continued into 2022, as a combination of factors has worsened the UK’s financial outlook. According to a November 2022 study published by research group Muslim Census, there had been a 50% increase in Muslims using food banks since August 2022. 1 in 5 British Muslims now use this type of charity service. Furthermore, 65% of Muslims have been required to take out some form of debt in order to cover their bills.
In the face of this urgent crisis, representatives of the community have warned that Muslims are not receiving enough support via government schemes aimed at supporting people during the crisis. In an August 2022 article reflecting on the risks of poverty across the country, Muslim Council of Britain Secretary General Zara Mohamed pointed out how minority ethnic communities were faced with particularly challenging economic situations. In this, she made reference to how 46% of Muslims live in the poorest 10% of Local Authority Districts in the nation.
Zakat – combatting UK cost of living crisis
Providing charity to fellow Muslims in need has long been an important part of the Islamic faith. The practice of zakat represents one of the five pillars of Islam. It requires Muslims to donate 2.5% of their earnings to charity.
However, in the face of the cost of living crisis, zakat organisations in the UK are reporting an overwhelming increase in those asking for help. According to Dr Sohail Hanif of the National Zakat Foundation, his organisation receives up to 3 applications an hour from struggling families across the UK. In an interview with the Islam Channel, he made particular reference to the impact of rising energy bills, and confirmed with first-hand examples reports of British Muslims taking on debts to pay their costs.
Food and warm banks
British Muslims have also looked to local Islamic centres to ask for help in surviving the crisis. As early as April 2022, ITV reported that there were long queues forming around a food bank at a mosque in Newcastle. This continued through the summer, with a BBC report of how a mosque in Cardiff had had to expand its capacity to meet local demand. As the cost of living crisis has deepened through the winter, Muhamad Ali of the Green Lane mosque in Birmingham told Metro in January 2023 how the use of their food bank had “doubled in the last few months.”
Finally, as well as providing food, mosques have been working to offer warm spaces for those who need to avoid having to pay for heating their homes. A mosque in Smethwick, Birmingham, is among those taking part. They have taken to Facebook to say that members of the community can attend the mosque for free to “keep warm, enjoy a hot drink and refreshments as well as connect with other members of the community.”
Lessons to be learned
By providing frontline support to those suffering, mosques are playing a key role in helping their communities during the cost of living crisis. This is a similar role to that being played by churches across the country, in particular in terms of offering food and warm banks. This social role is an important representation of the fact that religious institutions are not only restricted to questions of faith and beliefs, but are also important parts of local communities in the UK.
However, there is a key difference demonstrated by the increase in the use of services offered by Muslims. As described briefly in this article, Muslims are clearly more structurally exposed to falls in the standard of living. In the immediate future, it will be important to study why this is, and how this can be changed. But even more concerning is the fact that many of the impacts of this current economic crisis will only start to be seen over the coming years. This could mean that the gap between British Muslims and the rest of the population could widen further still.
Therefore, whilst the work of mosques to help support their communities must be applauded, British policymakers must not ignore the reasons that their work has become more necessary than ever through 2022 and into 2023.
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