The census says 39% of Muslims live in the most deprived areas of England and Wales

Campaigners have urged policy makers to act on the ‘cycle of poverty’ that is gripping generations of British Muslims, as the latest census shows 39 per cent of Muslims now live in the most deprived areas of England and Wales.

The proportion of people who identify as Muslims has increased by 1.2 million in 10 years, bringing the Muslim population to 3.9 million in 2021, the census shows. Overall, Muslims now make up 6.5% of the population in England and Wales, up from 4.9% in 2011.

As the Muslim population has begun to disperse away from urban centres, the latest census revealed a worrying correlation between areas with the worst levels of poverty and the percentage share of Muslims.

Overall, the data showed that 61% of Muslims in England and Wales live in the bottom 40% of areas of the country ranked by deprivation score. Only 4% of Muslims live in the least deprived fifth of England and Wales.

“We are now the second or third generation [of Muslims]. There are more of us here. However, we are still in these cycles of poverty and deprivation,” said Zara Mohammed, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). “I think part of that depends on the socio-economic conditions in which people are housed and the economic opportunities available.”

This Muslim population growth is driven by a younger population born in this country, second- and third-generation people, according to the MCB.

Mohammed added: “I think there really is something to be said about what our politics and policies are doing to help those who are truly suffering. There are all these stereotypes and clichés around Muslims, but the reality is that people are indeed in cycles of poverty. And these must be broken.

As in the 2011 census, Tower Hamlets had the highest percentage of the population who described themselves as Muslim in England and Wales. The Muslim population has increased by 1.9 percentage points over the past decade and now makes up 39.9% of the local population.

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At the East London Mosque, which is based in Tower Hamlets, local residents gathered for Dhuhr, the midday prayer service, on Tuesday. The mosque was a snapshot of modern Britain, with people of different ethnic backgrounds gathering to pray.

Sufia Alam, head of Maryam Center and East London mosque programmes, said: ‘I have worked for almost three decades in this neighborhood and it is one of the poorest in London and the country. Even though it’s an affluent neighborhood as well as a poor one, we have Canary Wharf on our doorstep. The [census data] they are not surprising due to so many factors that we have often talked about: Islamophobia, existing cultural prejudices, racism within institutions from education to work.

“I remember talking about the same thing in the 2011 census, nothing has changed.”

The Maryam Center, where women pray in the mosque, has a long history of supporting older Muslim women to find affordable work and childcare. But more recently, the center has started to see a greater need for support from young Muslim women as well.

“They get motivation from schools and colleges, but when they go to college it’s a whole different ballgame,” Alam said. “We have counseling services in the Maryam Center and we get a lot of young people who are really struggling with that balance because that sense of belonging is not there. In school they are educated and understand the culture and the community, but when they leave, in university, it’s a different game.

“And then also in the workplace, the kind of bias they hear is really hard. There is a great expectation from their parents, that ‘you are well educated, you should be in the best jobs’, but the reality is different.

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