According to the BBC, the UK government claims:

22% of Muslim women living in England speak little or no English.

It also quotes a former Superintendent of the Metro Police as disputing this figure:

Mr Babu also said he did not recognise the figure of 22% as the proportion of Muslim women without good English - instead quoting a figure of 6%, cited by racial equality think tank the Runnymede Trust.

The 22% seems like an exceptionally high number; is this accurate?

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    Just for clarification: the 22% claim is not a claim made by the BBC, but by the UK government.
    – gerrit
    Jan 18, 2016 at 10:47
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    Wow, someone corrected my bad English. That's a first. Jan 18, 2016 at 11:39
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    Perhaps one source conflates can speak little or no English with speaks English rarely or never? I can imagine 1 in 5 Muslim women being mostly bound to a home where English is rarely spoken, and I can imagine how somewhere along the flow of information speaks English rarely may get turned into speaks English poorly.
    – gerrit
    Jan 18, 2016 at 11:43
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    The 2011 UK Census’s standard reports also do not provide a breakdown of English language competence by religious affiliation with reference to the document here-mcb.org.uk/muslimstatistics. It states "There are very few who do not speak English at all. Those struggling with speaking English comprise only approximately 6% of the Muslim population." Jan 18, 2016 at 12:55
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    "The incidence of elderly relatives living within larger households could explain why Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi households are less likely to speak English at home – as competence in English is markedly lower among early generations of people from the Indian subcontinent"-policyexchange.org.uk/images/publications/… Jan 18, 2016 at 13:02

1 Answer 1


Do 22% of Muslim women in the UK speak little or no English?

No but census data is somewhat consistent with the notion that around 22% of Muslim women, born outside the UK, report themselves, or are reported, to the census as "cannot speak English well".

The census figures relate, not to Muslim women as such but to UK women born in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Muslim Council of Britain seems to consider that the latter is representative of the former.

David Cameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron posted on Facebook

Consider this: new figures show that some 190,000 British Muslim women – or 22 per cent – speak little or no English despite many having lived here for decades. 40,000 of these women speak no English at all. So it’s no surprise that sixty per cent of women of a Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage are economically inactive.

Politicians of all hues often make simplified statements about complex matters and choose numbers that suit their political agendas. The numbers may be real but, by themselves, may not give a complete, balanced or accurate view of the subject.

There are figures, from the UK Census 2011 that seem supportive of the government's assertion.

Other figures seem to contradict the assertion.

It may depend on exactly how you define "little or no English", "Muslim" and "struggling with English". For example does struggling mean only those actively seeking to learn in a formal organised setting and experiencing some difficulty?

It also depends on how representative of UK Muslims are immigrants to the UK from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Muslim Council of Britain

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) published a report that contains the following

enter image description here

Note that the MCB advance the idea that these national groups may be an indicator for muslims in the UK. The figures for "cannot speak English well" are 18.8% and 24.7%. It seems conceivable that the government's figure of 22% may be some kind of weighted average of these or of similar or overlapping data.

The MCB also published an Infographic that contains this

enter image description here

We don't know if the 6% includes or excludes Muslims who speak no English and make no attempt to learn English - The census figures don't tell us if if there are any UK Muslims at all who are content not to speak English and are therefore not "struggling".

In the, perhaps unlikely, event that the 6% are all women, not men and are all foreign-born, not UK-born; the 6% would then be 24% of foreign-born Muslim women in the UK.

Some notes:

  • The above data doesn't distinguish between men and women.
  • The 6% seems to be for British muslims.
  • The other numbers exclude British-born muslims.
  • Other figures in the report and infographic are for England & Wales only.

Serena Hussain

A book "Muslims on the Map: A National Survey of Social Trends in Britain" By Serena Hussain in 2008 gives the following on page 121:

Muslim women were least likely to report English as a spoken language, when compared with women from other faith groups. 73 per cent of Muslim women could speak English compared with 76 per cent of Buddhist, 81 per cent of Sikh and 90 per cent of Hindu women.

This seems to have been drawn from sources including the 2001 census.

  • Great answer, but I can't quite see how you conclude "yes" when it needs the proviso that it's only non-British-born Muslim women in Britain, while Cameron said 22% of "British Muslim women" Jan 18, 2016 at 23:26
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    Yeah, the "born outside the UK" thing changes the whole thing dramatically. Jan 19, 2016 at 13:28
  • Answer updated to make initial summary clearer. Jan 19, 2016 at 13:33
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    The Muslim Council of Britain has boycotted holocaust remembrance events. I'm not sure if they're a reliable source.
    – Golden Cuy
    Jan 20, 2016 at 20:29
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    @Andrew. The MCB was a handy source of census stats on the subject of Muslims. I'm not as sure as you that their presentation of stats re Muslims is necessarily undermined by their concern that HMD includes Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur genocides but excludes the situation in the Palestinian territories. The census data is available elsewhere but I thought a Muslim view was relevant. Jan 20, 2016 at 21:41

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