Figures show the UK Muslim community is quickly falling into poverty

A record number of Muslims are seeking hardship relief from a national charity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and, with a second Ramadan in lockdown approaching, funds are still urgently needed to respond to these needs, said National Zakat Foundation and Islamic Relief UK today.

Requests for help from National Zakat Foundation (NZF) have soared from approximately 15 a day before the first lockdown to over 70 a day during the latter period of 2020, and with the long-term financial impact of COVID still heavily affecting the community, the need remains very high. NZF gives out grants from Zakat (obligatory religious levy) collected from British Muslims to those in need. With the vast majority of Zakat typically being given in Ramadan, NZF are urgently seeking funds to ensure they can meet the needs of the community in the weeks and months ahead.   

Iqbal Nasim, Chief Executive of NZF said:

“This is unprecedented. We’ve never seen anything like it before and it is a clear indication of just how much COVID-19 is impacting Muslims across the country. By the end of 2020, UK zakat payers provided support to more than 15,000 beneficiaries via NZF.” 

To prevent a shortage of funds to meet demand, NZF appealed for £500,000 from the Muslim community and Islamic Relief responded by donating £200,000. 

Zia Salik, Director of Islamic Relief UK said:

“Throughout the pandemic, we have been helping people affected by COVID-19 in some of the poorest countries in the world, but we can see that people in this country are in desperate need. So many can’t afford to eat, pay their rent, clothe themselves or heat their homes. It’s a real emergency. And we do not have time to wait to respond to these needs.

“There is no organisation like NZF who can urgently distribute cash to those in need in such a robust and accountable manner and we are grateful to them for allowing us to be able to respond to so many thousands of Muslims in urgent need.” 

Muslim community falling into poverty at a rate 10 times higher than UK population 

The unprecedented demand for support from NZF reflects the statistics recently revealed by Muslim Census, which stated that the Muslim community in the UK has fallen into poverty at a rate 10 times higher than the national average.  

The report also revealed that job losses among Muslims have been six times greater compared to the rest of the population since the pandemic began and that 42% of the Muslims surveyed have had to use their savings to cover their expenses during the pandemic. This compares to a recent study by AJ Bell, an established investment platform, who recorded that 30% of people in the UK have had to use their savings.  

As well as facing poverty, Muslim communities are especially vulnerable as many live in extended households where elderly people and those with existing health conditions are most at risk. Key workers, such as NHS staff and transport workers from these families also have the additional fear of catching the virus. 

Leena (name changed to protect identity) lives in Leeds with her husband (a self-employed taxi driver) and their four children, aged 15, 13, 11 and 6. She explained:  

“I’ve never had to approach charity before in my life, but we are really struggling at the moment. My husband’s earnings as a taxi driver have plummeted since COVID-19. He’s earning around £140-200 less a week than he did before COVID-19. But the bills are piling up and it’s become incredibly stressful. This time of year is usually really busy for him, but people aren’t going out and the work just isn’t there. 

“I’m worried about how to put food on the table, gas and electric bills, children’s clothes; just last week, I couldn’t afford to buy washing powder. Now that the children are often off school, they need computers, but that’s totally out of the question, when we can’t even afford the essentials.” 

Green Lanes Mosque in Birmingham have also received more than double the enquiries they received before COVID-19.  

Uthmaan Ahmad, a caseworker at the Green Lanes Mosque said:  

“So many families are struggling to pay their bills, rent and food and the mental health strains are enormous. Asylum seekers applications are being pushed back even further and so many are destitute. Muslims find it very difficult to overcome their pride and ask for charity but it is an Islamic duty to help people and if people are in need, they shouldn’t feel ashamed to ask.”  

Adeel, a taxi driver from Rushden in Northamptonshire in the Midlands turned to Green Lanes Mosque for support.  He was earning approximately £40 a day prior to the COVID-19 pandemic working early shifts getting people to school and work. He didn’t have his own vehicle so had to give up 60% of what he earned to the company he worked for to cover the costs of the vehicle and insurance.  

As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed Adeel started to lose his customers but still had to pay the fees to the company and was then only earning £10-15 a day and sometimes making a loss. 

“This has been the worst year of my life”, he explained. “I was so stressed that I would lose my home. I can’t even begin to explain; it was so tough.” 

He also started to go without food.

“Sometimes one or two days would go by where I couldn’t afford to buy food, but thankfully as a Muslim, I am used to fasting, so I pulled on those resources.” 

51% spike in demand from those seeking asylum. 

NZF also revealed that they had seen a 51% spike in demand for support from asylum seekers since May.   

Iqbal Nasim, Chief Executive of NZF said:

“Even before the pandemic many asylum seekers were in an extremely precarious situation, and now we are hearing from so many who are facing financial difficulties.” 

Many of the places asylum seekers would typically turn to for food – such as charity drop-in centres – have had to close. And thousands of asylum seekers have been placed in hotels to avoid living in overcrowded houses and are given meals instead of an allowance.  This means they can’t afford to pay for essential items such as Internet for their children’s education or top-up for mobile phones to get information on COVID-19 or speak to family members.  

Rifhat Malik, co-Founder of Islamic Relief partner Give a Gift, a Leeds-based grassroots organisation supporting asylum seekers, said: 

“It’s a real emergency; we’re having mothers calling frantically on the phone, sobbing as they can’t afford to feed their children. One woman was giving her baby pasteurised milk from the supermarket as she couldn’t afford to buy baby milk. It’s so upsetting. Even before COVID-19, asylum seekers were really struggling, now it’s catastrophic.” 

Given the unprecedented demand in the UK for Zakat, NZF has given out £3.5 million to those in need in less than a year and has been granting £400,000 a month in the past few months.

Iqbal Nasim, Chief Executive of NZF said: 

“We are concerned that the funds will run out by early next year. The contribution from Islamic Relief UK will make a big difference, but we are still urgently appealing to the Muslim community to give some Zakat now to help bridge the gap. Together, we must ensure that no Muslim in need who comes to NZF will have to wait for months before receiving support, owing to a lack of funds.” 

Zia Salik, Director of Islamic Relief UK: 

“I hope the contribution from Islamic Relief UK will inspire other charities and individuals alike to come forward to meet this urgent funding need. As Muslims, we cannot abandon anyone in need and we must urgently do what we can to help.” 

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