As we unpick the detail of Rishi Sunak’s spring budget statement, we do so in the context of a relentless deterioration in the standard of living for thousands of low-income families across the UK. As a charity in its tenth year, which helps vulnerable people struggling to make ends meet, we’ve never been more concerned for our recipients.
In the last 12 months, our team of grants officers have helped over 12,000 people in need with grants for food, clothing, arrears, essential furniture, and training to get into work. We thought that the demand for help we saw during pandemic restrictions was the highest we’d ever see but that has been dwarfed in recent months. In January, we saw a 90% increase year-on-year of Muslims asking for help. As it stands, over 3,500 are waiting for help. We’ve started to share our data on demand and impact through publicly accessible dashboards here https://nzf.org.uk/nzf-live
The National Zakat Foundation is a Muslim faith-centred charity which collects and distributes Zakat from and to Muslims here in the UK. Zakat is the almsgiving of Muslim communities, given by those who have wealth above a certain threshold and can be received by those below it. We’ve given out nearly £5m in grants in the last 12 months and its not nearly enough to meet the need we’re seeing. Nationally, around half of all Muslims live in the 10% most deprived wards [Muslim Council of Britain, 2016].
A perfect storm of negative fiscal factors has come together, and it hurts the poorest in our communities the most. The Office for Budget Responsibility warns that living standards will fall at the fastest rate since records began this year. Inflation increases, which are the highest in a generation, are eroding real incomes for all and the Chancellor omitted any increase to state benefits which will have a severe impact on the poorest, and most of our recipients. The OBR says that benefits will also see a 5% fall in real terms. And being reliant on state benefits will mean that they won’t benefit at all from the £3,000 increase in the national insurance threshold which was announced. Add to this the eye watering hikes in energy costs, the cut of the universal credit top-up last autumn, increases in the national insurance rate kicking in from the start of April, we can see why Muslim communities around the country are suffering and reaching out for help. The impact on those seeking asylum in the UK from war and persecution (the majority of whom are Muslims), who live on £40.85 per week is difficult to contemplate.
Despite this desperation, we can see that Zakat is bringing hope, lifting faith and making people feel part of their communities. According to our latest impact data, when we asked beneficiaries whether the Zakat they received had lifted their faith, our average score was 4.76 out of 5. Importantly, when we asked whether the Zakat had made them feel closer to their community, the score was 4.83 out of 5. This is important to us because we believe that while the practical impact of the grant is important, the emotional impact is key to closer, thriving community. We want people to feel a sense of belonging. They may not know the Zakat givers who had helped them, but they know that when times were hard, other Muslims, their community, was there for them. At a time where Muslims can be the subject of disadvantage and discrimination, this is an example where being Muslim results in a positive experience.
Among our beneficiaries is Fatima, a single parent of two young boys. Fatima struggled to pay her bills, Council Tax, and repay a universal credit loan she had been given due to her situation. This is at the same time as trying to find money to pay for baby clothes and furnish her bare flat. We were able to help with hardship and furniture grants. Every application we get has a similar story of desperation.
The prospect of thousands and even millions of families being tipped into poverty should be a concern for us all. Communities will come together to help each other, as they always do at times of hardship. Zakat can play a big part in building that community. However, we also need the chancellor to recognise the plight of families suffering at this time.
Courtesy of Rizwan Yusoof, National Zakat Foundation UK