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Kamal Afzali

British Muslim participation in census ‘critical’ for better access to resources: researcher

Dr Serena Hussain is a specialist on census data [Dr Serena Hussain]

Date of publication: 17 March, 2021

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Dr Serena Hussain, who has researched the UK census for over two decades, says it is critical for Muslims to stand up and be counted.
Muslims in England and Wales should take part in this year's census to ensure a more equitable allocation of resources, a leading census researcher has urged.

British Muslims remain disproportionately disadvantaged in socio-economic terms, Dr Serena Hussain told The New Arab, making it critical for the group to take part in the UK's upcoming census.

Undercounting in the census leads to key gaps in data on the UK's second-largest faith community, depriving lobbying groups of facts and figures when pressing government officials on key issues or trying to obtain fair funding and resources, she says.

"Census data is able to pinpoint those particular aspects and trends within the community that require greater care and attention," Dr Hussain told The New Arab.

This is only the third time the "religious affiliation" question has appeared in the England and Wales census since 2001, providing an essential snapshot of trends within Muslim communities.

"In 2001, surprisingly, Muslims were more likely to report lone-parent households and that was a big shock to everybody. Muslim were also more likely to be over-represented in prisons, but also in some care facilities as well," Dr Hussain, who is a specialist on Muslim census data, said.

Dr Hussain highlighted the importance of accurate reporting but stressed that there were issues standing in the way Muslims might answer census questions, which cover ethnicity, housing tenure, education, occupation, and national identity, to name a few.

The Associate Professor at Coventry University authored a 34-page report on British Muslim engagement in the census, published by British Muslim Heritage Centre (BMHC) in January.

One area which Dr Hussain explored in her report was how securitisation of Muslims and mistrust of government had fed into a reluctance of providing full and accurate data.

In her interview with The New Arab, she said such apprehension is hard to separate from Muslim concerns about the normalisation of Islamophobia in parts of mainstream society, as well as aspects of government policy perceived as unfairly targeting Muslims, such as Prevent.

Dr Hussain praised the efforts of the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the non-ministerial agency which oversees the census, in reaching out to minority groups to assure them of the confidentiality of the data they provide.

Census data in England and Wales is kept anonymous for a hundred years.

Her research also suggests a separate issue pertinent to subsections within the Muslim community could make the census a laborious, mind-numbing task: the size of some Muslim families.

Partnering with Dr Hussain on this awareness raising project, the BMHC will visit various mosques to distribute information on Census 2021 in multiple languages. Imams will use this opportunity to outline the critical importance of Muslims standing up to be counted in this year's census. 

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