The outgoing Labour Government’s often controversial Equality Bill received royal assent on 8 April and became the Equality Act 2010.
In the economic sphere the legislation, and the Parliamentary debates on it, were informed by the work of the independent National Equality Panel, which sat between October 2008 and November 2009 under the chairpersonship of Professor John Hills of the London School of Economics.
The Panel’s report, running to almost 500 pages, was published by the Government Equalities Office in January under the title An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK. This is available to download at:
Buried within the document are some fascinating glimpses into the relationship between religion (as defined by religious affiliation) and economic disadvantage. Space precludes a full evaluation of the evidence collected by the Panel in this area, but some feel for the findings can be gleaned from the following headlines.
In terms of highest educational qualification, according to the Labour Force Survey (LFS) for 2006-08, more than a third of Buddhist and Hindu men and of Jewish women have first or higher degrees, and 43% of Jewish men. Christian and Muslim men have the smallest proportion with degrees, at 18%. More than two-fifths of Muslim men and women have no qualification beyond level 1. Those without any religion are slightly better qualified overall than the rest of the population. See figure 3.10 on page 102 of the report.
Also according to the LFS for 2006-08, the highest full-time employment rates for both working age men and women are for Christians, Hindus and those without any religion. One quarter of Jewish men and 16% of Muslim men are self-employed. The lowest employment rates are for Muslim men (47%) and women (24%), with 42% of Muslim women classed as economically inactive and looking after family or home. Formal unemployment for all men is 5% but 9% for Muslim men. 13% of Muslim men and women are economically inactive because they are students (compared with 5% of all those of working age). See figure 4.3(a) on page 114 and figure 4.3(b) on page 115.
Median gross hourly wages in £ at 2008 prices, derived from the LFS, are presented in figure 5.4 on page 132 and table 5.4 on page 149, and are summarized below.
Median total wealth in £ by religion was also calculated on page 208 of the report, as follows:
The data thus appear to confirm some kind of religious pecking order of economic advantage, to the extent that the Jewish community tends to be most affluent and the Muslim one most deprived, at the aggregate level. Differences between other religious groups are less marked and less consistent across measures.
In view of recent clashes between secularists and Christians, some Christians will doubtless smile at the fact that the median total wealth of those who reject all religion is 38% less than for Christians, despite the median hourly wages of the two groups being not dissimilar. Is this the prosperity gospel at work?!
Of course, the reality is far more complex than suggested here. Other factors need to be brought into play when considering the relationship between religion and economics, not least the interaction with ethnicity and age.
Equally, our ability to draw conclusions continues to be hindered by Government’s unwillingness to differentiate between the various Christian denominations when recording people’s religious profession, either in the population census or the Labour Force Survey.