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Are Muslims worst affected by discrimination in multicultural Britain?

Sajeda Momin

Published: Updated:

A prospective tenant with the name Muhammad is most likely to face rejection from landlords across the rental market in the UK. Ethnic minorities, particularly Muslims, suffer more discrimination when looking for rooms or homes to rent, say experts after an investigation carried out by The Guardian newspaper. It revealed that Muslims suffered from persistent bias either conscious or unconscious.

The snapshot survey of the private flat-share market found that inquiries from a Muslim received fewer positive responses than any other community. The survey sent out expressions of interest from two fictitious persons called “Muhammad” and “David” to almost 1,000 online advertisements for rooms all over Britain and found that David received more positive responses than Muhammad.

The survey revealed that Muhammad was doubly disadvantaged compared to David in that he was more likely not to receive a response at all from the potential landlord (Muhammad 44 percent, David 36 percent), and when Muhammad did receive a response it was more likely to be negative (Muhammad 25 percent of the time compared with David’s 18 percent).

“Merely having a name such as Muhammad should play no role in the provision of services open to the public,” said Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella body of Muslim organizations. Khan said the investigation has showed the structural racism already felt by many Muslims in their everyday lives. “This provides yet more evidence that Islamophobia is far broader than mere anti-Muslim hatred, and it is imperative that the government develops a strategy to tackle the structural racism affecting Muslims,” added Khan.

History of racism

Ethnic minorities have always faced racism in the housing market, and in the 1950s, some landlords in Britain actually put up notices saying “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs” along with their adverts for vacant rooms. While in today’s multicultural Britain such blatant discrimination is not allowed, but experts argue that subtle racism remains as The Guardian investigation has shown and it has significant consequences.

“Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities are more reliant on the private rented sector – 24 percent compared with 14 percent of white people. Having equal access to the rented sector is very important,” said Kevin Gulliver, the director of the Human City Institute, a charity and think tank focusing on exclusion, social justice and inequality.

The survey was conducted a year after the Theresa May government published a race disparity audit that identified differences in living standards, housing, work, policing and health between the white British population and ethnic minorities. The audit showed that minorities were more likely to live in overcrowded and inadequate housing in the most deprived neighborhoods.

“No landlord should arbitrarily discriminate against any prospective tenant on any basis. There are laws that apply to protect people from discrimination and we would not defend any landlord who willfully contravenes these,” said David Smith, policy director of the Residential Landlords Association. He called the findings of the survey “disturbing”. “Sadly, such prejudices are being compounded by the government’s right to rent policy, which requires landlords to carry out immigration checks, and its wider hostile environment approach to immigration,” added Smith.

May’s government has wanted to decrease immigration into the UK by creating a “hostile environment” for immigrants so they would not want to stay in the country and voluntarily go back home. The Brexit vote was also won on the basis of decreasing immigration and it also allowed previously hidden racism to emerge.

“Racism and discrimination for BAME people and minority faith groups isn’t restricted to one area of life. If you are not welcome in a restaurant as a guest because of the color of your skin, you are unlikely to get a job in the restaurant for the same reason,” said Zubaida Haque, the deputy director of The Runnymede Trust, a racial equality think-tank.

In fact Muslims are more likely to have negative experiences than other religious groups. According to The Guardian’s investigations Muslims are more likely to be stopped by the police, excluded from social functions at work or college, have people not want to sit next to them on public transport and verbally abused than any other faith groups including agnostics and atheists. There are 2.8 million Muslims living in the UK.