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LONDON: Candidates in this week’s election in London are urging local councils to engage Muslim communities and tackle growing wealth divisions that are driving Muslim children into poverty faster than any other group.

Londoners head to the polls on Thursday following a damning indictment from Human Rights Watch claiming that at 37 per cent the city has the highest child poverty rate in the UK.

But for Muslim children, it reaches 50%, a figure that does not surprise Mustafa Field, director of the Faiths Forum in London.

“Poorer communities tend to have weaker infrastructure, which includes access to good quality food and nutritious meals,” he told Arab News.

‘I don’t work on the front line, but I have had direct requests for food from struggling families as a result of the pandemic, which has been a very alarming development in the level of poverty within Muslim communities in London.’

Field said candidates can mitigate worsening poverty rates by increasing funding, improving internet access to ensure children are not left behind educationally, and tackling the social stigma associated with poverty, which he says prevents many Muslim families from seeking help.

Sagal Abdi-Wali, Camden council candidate, voluntary sector trustee and former local government official, said it is not unique for a minority community to fare worse.

Around 14% of London’s population identify as Muslim, making them the second largest religious group after Christians, but they remain underrepresented at government level. This, Labour’s Abdi-Wali told Arab News, makes it harder to tackle inequality.

“Part of the problem with long-standing underrepresented communities is that they are disproportionately affected by socio-economic and health inequalities,” she said.

“These challenges have been compounded by the pandemic, which in Camden has led to increased housing, health and employment issues.

“And now, with some form of austerity coming and the cost of living crisis, it’s likely to get worse for the foreseeable future if no action is taken.”

Rabina Khan, Liberal Democrat candidate for mayor of the borough of Tower Hamlets, said there are multiple reasons for the growing disparity between minority groups in London.

“It’s a range of factors that cause Muslim children to fall into poverty at a faster rate than other groups, from the pandemic to the cost of living, to Brexit and the impact that’s having. had on small business,” Khan told Arab News.

“All of these things affect children’s lives, but if we are to address them, local governments and Whitehall need to listen to local people, local authorities and involve communities.”

Abdi-Wali and Khan agree that regardless of the election outcome, winners should liaise with volunteer groups as they can help identify and support all communities.

Khan said that since the pandemic she had seen the voluntary and faith-based sectors play a “huge” role in tackling child poverty in the city.

“Even so, the voluntary sector is struggling, so it is vital that local leaders remain engaged,” she added. “They can do this by reaching out to developers and businesses operating in the city to create mechanisms for them to give back.”

Field said many charities were so focused on COVID-19 that they failed to see the impending cost-of-living crisis and therefore found themselves unable to meet demand.

“There are mosques I have engaged with that provided free meals, but with the cost of living increasing for everyone, they did not receive the same level of donations that allowed them to provide free meals. daily meals, so they are limiting their opening days,” he added.

“For families who have depleted their savings during the pandemic, they now have to borrow money to meet their basic needs.”

Local authorities in London are responsible for education, and for Khan this offers a way to tackle poverty by investing in activities for young people and providing free school meals, breakfast clubs, clubs extracurriculars and healthy snacks.

However, Field worries about voter engagement in elections, noting growing levels of distrust of politicians among marginalized communities and younger voters.

“This growing lack of trust stems in part from the electorate having less engaged with their politicians, and if they are unable to rally the support of these marginalized groups, they may be prioritizing their voters — middle-class families, for example,” he said.

“If things turn out this way, it will be a real challenge to fight poverty and a great threat to democracy if the situation does not change. It’s scary.”

Arab News has contacted the Conservative candidates, but at press time has not yet received a response.