Election season is upon us with its full might and fury. The media, marketing agencies and politicians are in overdrive. This is the month in which literally hundreds of billions are being bought and sold in exchange for votes.
As Muslims living in the UK, we need to be clear about what are thing things that we should be asking politicians for.
Mend are a great NGO who have developed a whole raft of policy positions to put to politicians. You can access their full election manifesto here. One particular pledge we like is name-blind recruitment. This has the potential to have massive impact on Muslim employment rates – given that a Muslim-sounding name is 3 times less likely  to be called for interview otherwise.
But at IFG our domain is much narrower: it is the economic and finance realm. We focus on this as it is what we know best, and we believe that wealth creation is essential for our community’s overarching advancement.
The One Thing
And we got thinking on what is the one thing, that would materially change the economic position of Muslims? For context, Muslims are statistically amongst the poorest in society: almost half of the UK Muslims live in the top 10% poorest local authorities. Globally, Muslims are about 20% poorer than the rest of the world.
What is that simple, but tangible and achievable one thing that a politician can do which will help to lift a certain number of Muslims out of poverty over time?
How can we frame that ask so that it comes across as reasonable, achievable but also meaningful? And crucially, how can we as a UK community really get behind it and stand firm on it?
The candidate “One Things”
Before we got into the numbers, we had a brain-dump of all the potential “one things” that we could think of:
Connectivity infrastructure projects across the North and Midlands
(assumption being that as there are large pockets of poor Muslims in the North and Midlands, connectivity helps them to reach areas of economic activity and business. See this following great heatmap showing where the majority of Muslim-heavy constituencies are in the UK geographically, which illustrates the point nicely):
Provide sharia-compliant business loans
(assumption being loans help businesses to grow and this helps communities – but that sharia-compliant loans not being available is a deterrent to people setting up or growing their businesses. Anecdotally, we know there are plenty of small, family-run shops for example. But not many of these go on to be big. There do however appear to be some sharia-compliant financing available from the government right now.)
Improve education standards
(assumption being that education is low and higher education leads to better economic outcomes. Here is a U.S. government graphic showing the unsurprising effects of more education on median wage and unemployment):
Support online skills training in places where there are no bricks-and-mortar jobs
(assumption being that in places like London there are so many jobs you’ll find something, but in somewhere like Blackburn, it might be easier if you can access the global online job market instead)
Provide sharia-compliant student loans
(assumption being that higher education leads to better economic outcomes)
Make it compulsory for workplace pensions to offer an Islamic investment option
(assumption being that Muslims who can save and invest better will have better economic outcomes.
The average advertised salary in the UK in 2019 is £35,000 and each employer has to contribute a minimum of 3% of that, which is £1050. This is literally free money you get as part of your pension and Muslims who don’t get this will lose out around £105,000 over 30 years, assuming no further increase in salary and a 6% year-on-year return on the invested amount.
Here is a graphic that shows the amount of money someone who doesn’t have a workplace pension is leaving out on the table):
Support funds and investor networks that are not London-centric and can effectively target the poor ethnic minority geographic pockets
(assumption being that massive transformative change can be brought about in regions through the success of just a handful of companies from that area, and the venture money that goes into the failures also helps grow the economy, the talent-pool ecosystem, and trains up future successful start-up founders.
Unfortunately, current private equity and venture capital firms do not effectively meet demand outside of London. Reporting on some research, the FT said, “the research showed that equity gap was greatest in the East Midlands. There were enough eligible companies there to benefit from as much as £560m of private equity, according to the researchers, but they received just £59m of investment.” This same research pointed to £6.5 billion in unmet private equity investment demand across the UK.)
What criteria we are judging the “one things” against?
Okay, so we have a bunch of potential one-things Muslims should focus in on. But what is the metric that we are trying to maximise should the “one thing” succeed?
- Financial prosperity (“FP”) – wealth creation has a positive impact on a community
- The number of Muslims affected (“MA”) – we want to be able to help the widest number of our community with the “one thing”.
- Messaging (“M”)– we want people to actually raise this point with their parliamentary candidates. You can’t do that if the thing is so complicated no one can explain it without a Phd.
- Ease of implementation (“I”) – the ask mustn’t be so difficult or remote or expensive for it to be impractical
- Wider appeal(“WA”) – this election is for all of the UK and every MP has to represent a wide and often-conflicting electorate. So a campaign that is only going to benefit Muslims isn’t going to have that wider appeal for an MP, making it the sort of thing only really high-density Muslim-area MPs would be interested in.
For each idea, we have accorded it 1 point for each of the above criteria it ticks. The results are as follows:
Idea 1: Connectivity Infrastructure Projects
Score: FP, MA, M, WA – Total: 4
Notes: We feel that this will be championed by so many people anyway, that there’s no real strategic value-add to Muslims specifically calling for this as the “one thing”.
Idea 2: Sharia-compliant business loans
Score: FP, I – Total: 2
Notes: This is, as we intimated, happening already to some extent. A lot more needs to be done, and this is genuinely impactful as an idea, but probably not one most Muslims know enough about to properly campaign for.
Idea 3 : Improve education standards
Score: FP, MA, M, I, WA – Total: 5
Notes:This is a really impactful “one thing” but the issue we have is that it will, like the infrastructure projects, be well-campaigned for by many others anyway.
Idea 4: Online skills training in low-job areas
Score: FP, WA – Total: 2
Notes: Implementing this will could be difficult, it doesn’t affect the majority of Muslims, and, frankly, there are plenty of free learning options available these days.
Idea 5: Sharia-compliant student loans
Score: FP – Total: 1
Notes: As discussed in this article, we think you should avoid a student loan as much as you can, but ultimately, if you’ve tried to avoid it as much as you can, you can take it as a necessity. And very practically speaking, we don’t know of a huge amount of Muslims who have decided not to go to university solely due to this reason.
Idea 6: Sharia-compliant workplace pension
Score: FP, M (0.5), I – Total: 2.5
Notes: Muslims might struggle a little bit to get up to speed quickly to effectively campaign for this point, and many Muslims have companies with providers who do provide sharia-compliant pension options, so we’re not sure this will affect as many Muslims as some of the other options.
Idea 7: Promote investing outside of London and in ethnic minority pockets
Score: FP, MA, M, I, WA – Total: 5
- The economic impact of this option is clear.
- It will have a widescale impact affecting many Muslims.
- The messaging is pretty simple “all the investment in the UK is in London – show the regions some love and equip those funds who actively and effectively seek out opportunities in unloved areas and in unloved communities.
- The implementation is relatively easy – the government money is already there, they just need to readjust priorities and make investment into BME and particularly deprived areas a higher priority.
- The idea has wider appeal – as this investment into BME start-ups and founders isn’t going to just regenerate the area for Muslims, but for everyone.
Which one-thing we think is the one to push for and why
Based on the above analysis, we believe that the single most impactful thing Muslims should be calling for is “promote investing outside of London and in ethnic minority pockets”.
More precisely, we should ask for a £10m pot to be put aside by the British Business Bank and, perhaps, The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to invest outside of London into ethnic-minority dense areas.
These are the sort of soundbites we need to be using:
- 76% of the UK venture capital industry is white, which compares to 59% of the London population (where most VCs are based).
- Support new and small businesses in the Midlands and the North. They are the future and will help regenerate the area and create new jobs.
- In some areas of the UK, there is demand and opportunity that is 10x more than is actually being invested there. 
- Make funding available for businesses and start-ups from deprived communities.
- Making funding available for business and start-ups from ethnic minority backgrounds.
What impact would this have?
The impact of increasing start-up and private equity investment into ethnic minority communities in the Midlands and North of the UK will have massive positive effects. Here are some of them:
- It will employ more people – which in turn gets more money into pockets, which in turn gets spent more in the local area, which in turn grows the local economy further. A virtuous cycle.
- It will create an ecosystem where people learn how to succeed in business. This is vital for a thriving ecosystem where companies can hire people who have already experienced similar stages of growth and similar challenges from other companies, and who are now battle-scarred and ready to start their own thing.
- It will spark off creativity and solve problems not yet solved. Start-ups are by their nature usually focused on solving one big difficult problem. The more people working on these kinds of problems, the quicker we are able to deal with things like climate change, inequality, obesity and many other issues.
- A successful business built from scratch creates fantastic role models. Here are just some examples.
- The founders of Onfido, rated Europe’s number one fintech this year, are three young Muslims – Hussayn, Eamon and Ruhul.
- Shahzad from Muzmatch
- Adeem Younis from SingleMuslim
- Ismail Ahmed from WorldRemit
- Nafisa Bakkar from Amaliah
- Shazia Saleem from Ieat Foods
- Sheeza Shah from Upeffects
- It will improve the Muslim voice in politics and the media. Strong businesses naturally need to interact with policymakers and put across their views on what is best for the economy from their perspective. This means big business usually has strong links with politics and media. As ethnic minority and Muslim businesses grow to that level, so too does their representation and voice in the media and politics.
Do you agree with our analysis?
If you do, please comment below to say so and share this article, so that we can add momentum this campaign. Please also raise this point at every opportunity you get this election.
If you do not agree, please let us know why, and what you would pick instead. This “one thing” is so important to get right that it needs all the voices in the room to speak up.
 Refer to GNI statistics for OIC countries vs other countries here: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ny.gnp.pcap.pp.cd
 https://www.ft.com/content/51ba7fa6-56d7-11e9-91f9-b6515a54c5b1 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-38751307