Cost of living support measures are failing Muslims and ignoring the fact that minorities are at higher risk

Policy must reflect the fact that this crisis is affecting some communities disproportionately

Cost of living support measures are failing Muslims and ignoring the fact that minorities are at higher risk

Opinion

By Zara Mohammed

Civil society and faith institutions have provided a critical lifeline of support to the most vulnerable (Photo: Isabel Infantes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Years of a widening poverty gap and deep-rooted inequalities are exacerbating the cost of living crisis. Understanding these intersections, and people’s lived experiences, is the first step towards effective policy making. 

This month, the Bank of England announced its largest interest rate hike in 27 years to try and tackle inflation, following on from the Chancellor’s support package for struggling households. Having travelled across the UK for the past 18 months as part of my role at the Muslim Council of Britain, meeting communities, I am deeply concerned that these measures are wholly inadequate in addressing the realities now facing many Britons. Hot shower or hot meal? Top up the electricity or buy essential food? These are the stark choices facing many; and it goes even deeper than that.

Almost half of Muslims in the UK are under 25 and as is so often the case, young people are unheard amid crises. A poll by the Royal Society of Arts revealed that 47 per cent of people aged 16 to 24 were unable or just about managing to make ends meet each month. Almost half of 16 to 25 year-olds have gone to bed hungry in the last 12 months, according to research by youth homelessness charity Centrepoint. Young people I have met have spoken of the tough choices they’ve made; one recounting how he abandoned further education, and with it his dreams and aspirations, to work to provide an extra income for his household.

Women are facing extraordinary challenges during this crisis too, from going without meals for the sake of their children and struggling to make their money last through the summer holidays. Women’s Aid reported how 66 per cent of survivors of domestic abuse say that abusers are now using the soaring prices and concerns about financial hardship as a tool for coercive control. Almost 73 per cent of women said that financial reasons had either prevented them from leaving or made it harder for them to leave an abusive partner.

The picture is grim for minority ethnic communities too. According to research by People Like Us, 34 per cent of people from racially diverse backgrounds can no longer afford to pay their bills, rent or mortgage each month. Twenty-nine per cent of ethnic minority professionals are looking to downsize or plan to move back in with their families, 35 per cent are also projected to rack up extra debt by taking out loans or spending on credit cards, and another 31per cent are borrowing money from someone they know.

The Muslim Council of Britain’s own landmark report in 2015, British Muslim in Numbers, found that 46 per cent of Muslims lived in the bottom 10 per cent of the most deprived Local Authority Districts in England, and this was before crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic struck. We have all seen and heard of how people are more dependent on charity relief and mutual aid support than ever before. The National Zakat Foundation, a charity supporting Muslims in the UK experiencing poverty, reported a 90 per cent year-on-year increase in applications to their hardship relief fund. As such, the true scale and severity of the impact this cost of living crisis already disadvantaged communities face has yet to be fully assessed and understood.

Civil society and faith institutions have provided a critical lifeline of support to the most vulnerable. I have witnessed these incredible efforts first hand on my travels; community groups, Mosques and interfaith alliances are very often the first line of defence in ensuring there are food banks and provisions for those needing that extra support. These organisations have told me of their fears too; with such rising demand how long can they sustain their operations?

Aside from the financial pressures, this crisis is already taking a significant toll on people’s health. As people turn to less healthy, but more budget friendly meal choices, or just the anxiety and stress of trying to get by; men, women and even children will need support.

The spectre of civil unrest as the crisis deepens is also real. Very often, the targets for people’s outrage are already marginalised communities, particularly when we have seen a divisive narrative and discourse normalised around immigrants, asylum seekers and Muslim communities.

As a part of our own work with Muslim communities across the UK, we hope to create spaces where families can talk and know that they are not alone in this. Pastoral care and well-being must play a much more vital role in this conversation, as well as signposting people to where they can get the help they need, whatever their situation.

What this crisis desperately needs at this critical juncture, however, is for policymakers to looks beyond statistics to the lived realities of ordinary people. In the midst of the ruling party’s leadership campaign and the inevitable uncertainty that brings, our message should be clear: we need political leadership that recognises the scale of hardship people now face, genuinely listens to and understands people at a grassroots level, and demonstrates a willingness to develop effective policies based upon their learnings.

Despite the challenging times ahead, I hope we can see this as a time to come together to raise a bold voice within the national conversation about helping people, not just getting the direction of lines on graphs right.

Zara Mohammed is the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain

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