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Keeping faith during the cost of living crisis

This piece is part of a series of blog posts by members of the Inequalities in Health Alliance, highlighting the breadth of health inequalities that exist throughout society. #EverythingAffectsHealth 

Half of Muslim households live in poverty in the UK, writes Dr Hina J Shahid, GP and chair of the Muslim Doctors Association & Allied Health Professionals CIC.

At the beginning of the first wave of the pandemic, it was clear that people of colour and faith were dying disproportionately from COVID-19.

While debates on the role of vitamin D and diabetes dominated medical discourse, the Muslim Doctors Association published and contributed to a series of policy briefings and reports to bring into acute awareness the chronic systemic health and social inequity experienced by communities for decades, and how these were amplified by the pandemic. These emphasised the role of socio-economic deprivation and its intersection with ethnicity and religion and the need to protect religious minorities, and called for urgent multi-level holistic interventions and recognising religion and Islamophobia as overlooked determinants of health. They highlighted how the social determinants of health, such as insecure and poor housing, employment and income, socially patterned chronic conditions, mistrust of government and barriers to healthcare access, were driving excess morbidity and mortality through difficult choices between life and livelihood.

Why do we bring this up now? Because lessons need to be learnt as we enter another crisis, this time in the cost of living. Community insights are vital sources of early intelligence to prevent a social catastrophe. And we know that prevention is better than cure.

The National Zakat Foundation, a charity supporting Muslims in the UK experiencing poverty, has reported a 90% increase year on year in applications to their Hardship Relief Fund, and that the cost of living crisis is pushing families deeper into deprivation and destitution. The holy month of Ramadan has just concludeda month of fasting, prayer, community and charity but Muslim families struggled to provide food on the table to break their fast, with food banks and community organisations stepping in to support them.

The story of Fatima, a single mother living in an unfurnished flat with mounting debts and struggling to provide for her children, is one of many. Recently Zahra*, a single mother of three, came to see me about her child’s developmental delay; she disclosed the Islamophobic abuse and harassment she constantly experiences from her neighbour, and its negative impact on her mental health and her child’s development. Financially destitute, she and her children await respite through relocation, but social housing waiting lists have soared. Women in abusive relationships and financially dependent on partners are risking their lives, and for Muslim women facing barriers in the labour market due to a triple penalty, this is more real.

The cost of living crisis is affecting us all, but it is affecting us differently. A report on the financial impact of COVID-19 in the Muslim community showed that Muslims were six times more likely to lose their job and 10 times more likely to fall into poverty. The intersection of socio-economic deprivation, Islamophobia and COVID-19 is being intensified by the cost of living crisis and urgent action must be taken. This begins by listening to communities and mitigating root causes, not exacerbating them and creating further disparities and divisions.

*name changed to protect anonymity