British Pakistanis: Perceptions, Realities and The Way Forward

This blog was written by Dr Karamat Iqbal; Dr Serena Hussain; Imran Arif


The blog is based on a paper which accompanied a webinar on the British Pakistani community, which was organised by the Bradford-based charity QED Foundation on 23 April 2021 on behalf of Network of Pakistani Organisations UK (NPO-UK). The event was organised in response to the controversial findings of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which was appointed by the UK government as a result of the disproportionate effect of the coronavirus pandemic on BAME communities and an upsurge in popular support for the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020.

The 24-page Sewell Report was published in March 2021 and examined disparities in education, employment, crime, policing and health. However, some of its findings – and particularly its denial of institutional racism and conclusion that the roots of disadvantage are often as much to do with social class, ‘family’ culture and geography as ethnicity – have been widely criticised. QED Foundation works to support the social and economic advancement of disadvantaged communities and campaigns for public policy to meet the needs of specific ethnic minority groups. It set up NPO-UK to bring together organisations and activists supporting Britain’s 1.5 million people of Pakistani origin. The network helps members to share ideas and learn from each other, break down the barriers that hold their communities back and speak with a united voice.

Migration and background

World War II left Britain with a shortage of manpower, as many of its industries required additional labourers to rebuild the nation. It looked to its former colonies, and having not long departed, its recruitment drive focused on personnel from the Caribbean, Pakistan, India and later Bangladesh, as a direct result of its imperial legacy (Hussain 2008)

Although there was migration from British India prior to the 1950s – and regions within that which now constitute Pakistan – it was not until the post-War period that we began to see higher levels of in-migration of non-ethnic Europeans into Britain. In the case of Pakistanis, the vast majority were initially recruited to work within the steel and textile industries. Samad states that within the space of a decade – between 1951 to 1961- the Pakistani figure had risen from 5000 to 24,900. By 1991, the Pakistani community had grown to 476,000, 51 percent of them were born in the UK (Anwar 1996). Their pockets of settlement corresponded with the geographical location of these key industrial hubs – such as urban centres in Yorkshire, Lancashire, the West Midlands, Luton, Slough and East London. This arrival of the community in those neighbourhoods also coincided with ‘White flight’ – the White people moving out to settle in other, more affluent, areas.  

We now know that a substantial majority of these migrants were indeed from Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), rather than Pakistan proper. The primary reason is an existing relationship which two regions in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) known as Mirpur and Poonch, had with the British naval and armed forces prior to the partition of 1947. Harsh policies under the ruling powers of J&K (the Dogra Raj; Hussain 2021) left these predominately Muslim areas severely under developed as a deliberate strategy to maintain control of the state. Furthermore, Muslims were seldom recruited into formal positions in J&K and as a result needed to leave the state for employment elsewhere.

The worst feature of the Dogra rule was its communal outlook which led to religious discrimination against the Muslims. This led to the marginalisation o the Muslims, including in the area that later became AJK. The disadvantages of the Muslims were made known to the outside world by Sir Albion Bannerji, the Foreign and Political Minister of Kashmir were ‘governed like dumb driven cattle’ (in Hussain, 2021)

During these early days Pakistanis and other minorities experienced racism in the form of Paki-bashing and signs on landlords’ windows such as ‘No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs’. This further encouraged the minorities to live in areas where more of their community resided.

Policies, such as the Race Relations Act 1965, were introduced to address the racism and provide equal opportunities for the minority communities. The Act was followed by subsequent legislation, such as the Race Relations Act 1976, which allowed for Positive Action to be implemented. This explained the meaning of underrepresentation:

There is under-representation for these purposes only if, at any time during the previous 12 months either no people from the racial group were doing the particular work at the establishment in question, or the proportion of those doing the work at that establishment coming from the particular racial group was small in comparison with the proportion of all those employed at the establishment from that group, or with the proportion of the population of the area from which the establishment normally recruits who come from that racial group.

Under Section 38 of the legislation employers were allowed to:

  • Encourage members of a particular racial group to apply for particular work at an establishment where they are under-represented;
  • Provide training for their existing employees from a particular racial group to help fit them for particular work at an establishment where their group is under-represented in that work.

Racial discrimination continued to be a feature of the daily lives of the growing minority communities despite the policies. Anti-racist movements were formed of all immigrant groups including British Pakistanis who began to increase their participation within the Trade Unions and local level politics. As a result of increased lobbying the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 including a statutory duty on public bodies to promote race equality, and to demonstrate that procedures to prevent race discrimination are effective.

Adopting the narrative of anti-racist movements – namely from the US and South Africa – activity was often organised under the umbrella term Black, which came to be used for all minorities, including Asians. This led to research and policy responses to be focussed explicitly on Black (meaning African Caribbean) groups (Gillborn 2008, p39). According to the Black intellectual Stuart Hall (1991), Black was created as a political category. “In the 1970s, for the first time, Black people recognized themselves as Black” (p54). It was a political response by the Black community to adopt, as their own, this term which, until then had been used pejoratively. He also pointed out how the term then went onto ‘silence’ other minority identities (p56):

It had a certain way of silencing the very specific experiences of Asian people. Because though Asian people could identify, politically, in the struggle against racism, when they came to using their own culture as the resources of resistance, when they wanted to write out of their own experience and reflect on their own position, when they wanted to create, they naturally created within the histories of the languages, the cultural tradition, the positions of people who came from a variety of different historical backgrounds. And just as Black was the cutting edge of a politics vis-à-vis one kind of enemy, it could also, if not understood properly, provide a kind of silencing in relation to another.

Later, Modood (2005, p47) pointed out that the silencing could be seen in policy discourse, well into the late 1980s:

“as is reflected in virtually all CRE publications, local authorities’ race discourse, academic texts, the ‘quality’ press, radio and television, as well as in documents of most central government departments and many large employers.”

Pakistanis also came to lose out when their particular needs were hidden under labels such as Asian, ethnic minorities, BAME and Muslim.

Data on Pakistanis

It was not until after the 1991 National Census for Population in England and Wales that comprehensive data on ethnic minorities – including Pakistanis – was available. This helped to make the case that different service provision needs were required based on ethnicity. The well-known study conducted by Modood and colleagues using the Fourth National Survey of Ethnic Minorities (1997) demonstrated clearly how a ‘one size -or, in this case description – fits all’ approach was inadequate in understanding community level dynamics.

 The data showed the Pakistani population in England and Wales recorded as 455363 and this increased to 1124511 in the space of two decades. In terms of the actual share of the population, Pakistanis formed less than 1% of all people in England and Wales in 1991, 1.4% in 2001 and just over 2% in 2011. This constitutes a 1.1% increase compared to 0.86% increase for Indians.  This can be explained in part by a slightly younger age profile among Pakistanis, compared with Indians.  

We saw an increase in people from a Pakistani background obtaining a degree or higher degree (level 4/5) qualification in 2011, with a quarter of British Pakistanis aged 16 or over reporting this. There was also a notable decrease in the proportion of Pakistanis reporting no qualifications between 2001 and 2011, with the figure being reduced from 41% to 25.5%. This is largely a result of period of settlement and access to compulsory state education in Britain.

The data supports Modood and colleagues (1997) earlier findings, which reported that people from some ethnic minority backgrounds, including Pakistanis, were more likely to go on to higher education compared with the national average.


Pakistanis are among the most likely to own their own homes. This figure was also high for British Indians and notably higher than the national average. In 2011 Pakistanis were the most likely ethnic group (minority and compared to the white majority) to live in a house that was not shared with anyone other than their family members.

Pakistanis reported living in terraced housing more than any other group and this reflects the areas in which communities formed and the most frequently accessible housing that was available. Samad (page 6) for example writes, “In the UK in the Northern towns, Birmingham, Luton, Slough and parts of London there are Pakistani enclaves with high levels of housing concentration, a product of discrimination in the housing market and a propensity for home ownership (67% own their own homes) and lack of suitable social housing that can accommodate large families with average size of 4.4 persons per household.”

Samad points out the consequence of this; parts of some British cites have localities that have high rates of concentration of Pakistanis. As examples he offers Bradford, where Manningham ward has 60.1% Pakistanis. And Birmingham, where Washwood Heath has 56.2% of the locality populated not just by Pakistanis but usually members of the same biraderis usually Kashmiri clans.

Like elsewhere, the foundations of the Pakistani concentration in Birmingham had been laid in the early 1960s (Jones 1967). The top five Council wards with the presence of Pakistanis were: Aston, Balsall Heath, Market Hall (inner ring ward no longer in existence), Sparkbrook and Saltley.


When our communities first arrived in the UK they settled wherever they could. This has led to segregation. It means our community does not always have contact with other communities. This is a particular problem for our young people. It is possible for a Pakistani child to grow up in a neighbourhood where he is surrounded by people of not just Pakistani background (which is diverse) but those who are from the same area in Pakistan, where his family came from. Majority maybe even his biraderi, the wider family. The child may have his nursery education, primary and secondary schooling and college education in such a neighbourhood. Given the cost of higher education the child, now adult, may go to a local university while staying with his parents. Such a person is not ready to face the wider world. If he were to venture out even a few miles he would discover numerous other ethnic communities with their own different ways. When accessing jobs and other opportunities in this wider world, as well as having the necessary qualifications he would need to be diversity-literate i.e. know how to survive and hopefully thrive amongst difference which maybe new to him. In particular, he would need to be ‘White-literate’, know and understand the ways of the majority community who control much of the power and opportunities. Such diversity-literacy is now seen as advantageous with an economic bonus. Ted Cantle, an expert in cohesion and diversity, told me in an email that “many employers are now looking for employees that can think in international or global terms, as that reflects their business. Applicants will lose out if they are not equipped for this.”


British Pakistanis continue to have a younger age profile compared with the national average. In 2011, only 3% of British Pakistanis were aged 70 or over compared with 5.5% of Indians and 11.6% of the population on a whole.


According to figures published by the ONS in 2020, Pakistanis are more likely to be self-employed compared with all other groups. Fifteen percent of all people nationally are self-employed; however, this increases to 25% for Pakistanis. Furthermore, previous census figures provide an insight into the kinds of industries and occupation type Pakistanis are concentrated. Sixteen percent of Pakistanis reported being in managerial or professional occupations, with a further 19.3 % reporting intermediate and 23.5 % indicating routine or manual occupations. Almost a quarter had either never worked or were long-term unemployed; and 16% were full-time students in 2011. Whatever the cultural or other explanations for this, the sort of jobs Pakistani are concentrated in are generally low paid and have limited prospects for progression, training and wage increases.  


In terms of socioeconomic indicators, a report by the Resolution Foundation pointed out that (after Bangladeshis £16,400), Pakistanis have the lowest household income, at £16,600. The report also pointed out the low rate of employment amongst Pakistani women (37%, compared with 72% white females).

A report by Khan provided figures for median household wealth across ethnic groups. Pakistanis were reported as having an average accumulated wealth of £127,000 per household compared with £282,000 for White British and £266,000 for Indian households. However, the Pakistani figure was higher than that of Black Caribbean  (89,000), Other Asian (£50,000) Bangladeshis and Black Africans (£28,000). 

Understanding ethnic differentials

A combination of i) period of settlement, ii) area of migration – in terms of whether it was rural or urban and whether the skills brought with migrants were directly applicable to a British landscape – in the form of ‘human capital’;  iii) as well as accumulation of financial capital on migration, all contributed to the ‘starting’ position of communities, with some already being at an advantage compared with others. Modood for example differentiated between African Asians and other Asian groups as the former are ‘twice-migrants’ and already attained capital wealth and skills during their settlement in Africa prior to migration to Britain. There are a higher proportion of Indians among the twice-migrants.

Furthermore, there is now ample evidence of a ‘culture’ racism as well as a colour racism experienced in the UK. Modood et al (1997) argued that the common understanding of the ways racism works,

“Grossly understates the current scale of the disadvantage of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, and takes no account either of cultural differences between South Asians, or political alienation sometimes expressed in terms of a political Muslim identity” (p. 147)

For example, some minority communities are perceived more positively than others are. In 2018 YouGov conducted a survey with the British public in which it was reported that immigrants from India scored higher in terms of how positively they were perceived  (+25)  compared with Pakistanis (-4) . These figures are calculated based on whether those surveyed believed Indian and Pakistani immigrants provided a negative or positive contribution.

The difference in figures is stark, yet not surprising given the culture racism discussed by some scholars which is very much related to being Muslim and the prevalence anti-Muslim prejudice.   

Hussain (2017) found that even among British Muslims, some groups were more likely to face greater levels of disadvantage than others, for example, Black Muslim women scored the highest in terms of a number of socio-economic indicators when compared to white Muslim men . Therefore, we know that racism is not experienced as a blanket phenomenon, but impact some communities more than others in terms of the way they are perceived at a societal level. 

Iqbal (2013) produced a case study of Birmingham which has the largest (14% of the city, at 150,000) Pakistani population in the UK. Throughout the city’s organisations and key decision-making bodies Pakistanis were underrepresented. A number of these had a racially diverse workforce but when examined the racial minorities were often Black Caribbean and Indian. For example Birmingham City Council had set up employment targets in 2001: 5.3% for Indians and 6.9% for Pakistanis. This was determined by the size of the two communities in the city. A Freedom of Information request in 2020 pointed out that the City Council had still not achieved its twenty-year old target for the Pakistanis; they were 5.6% of the workforce against their presence in the local population of 14% (according to Census 2011). Indians in the Council workforce were 6.42% compared with their presence in the City of 4.6% (according to Census 2011).      

Discussion on ethnic penalties

Several theoretical issues are raised when discussing the possession of wealth or the persistence of disadvantage through differential labour market participation for minorities. Human capital amongst these is a key area and much has been made of education as a means of tackling racial disadvantage in order to accelerate social mobility (Berthoud 2000). However expectations, alienation, stereotyping and the greater discrimination of some groups are also areas discussed. Crucially it has been found that disadvantage remains after controlling for a range of individual and area factors. At the forefront of minority labour market progress and participation is the discussion of ‘ethnic penalties’.  Cheng and Heath describe ethnic penalties as referring to:

“All sources of disadvantage that might lead an ethnic group to fare less well in the labour market than to similarly qualified Whites’ and that ‘discrimination is likely to be the major component.”  (1993:1). 

Modood et al (1997) found that 20% of non-White respondents believed they had been refused a job because of their ethnicity and nearly half of those reporting this claimed to have had such an experience in the five years prior to the survey.

Two studies using data from the Labour Force Survey found that although all ethnic minority groups suffered an ethnic penalty these were not at the same rate. It has in the past been suggested that Caribbean men especially faced an ethnic penalty, however as Berthoud found African, Pakistani and Bangladeshis were in a very similar position. And he wrote,                                      

“Part but only a small part of disadvantage in the labour market could be explained on the basis of the relatively low educational qualifications achieved earlier in life: degree for degree, A ‘level for A ‘level young Pakistani and Bangladeshi men were worse off than their White equivalents” (2000:412).  

Modood et al (1997) found that all minority groups under study were more likely to be unemployed than equally qualified Whites, however, Pakistani and Bangladeshi males suffered the highest penalty and Indian males the smallest. In addition, analysis of similarly qualified candidates for courses in higher education it was discovered that Caribbean and Pakistani students had lower chances of entry to the red brick and more prestigious universities. They argue that penalties vary considerably between minority groups. For their analysis they used maximum likelihood methods to demonstrate that ethnic penalties experienced by minorities are not fully explained by differences in human capital and personal characteristics. They concluded that at least some of the disadvantage experienced by ethnic minorities can be credited to discriminatory selection practice by employers. 

Becker (1971) also argues that when hired the discriminated group are paid a wage lower than their actual productivity.   Discrimination in selection processes is, therefore, coherent with lower occupational status as well as higher unemployment and lower average earnings for ethnic minorities. This certainly fits in with descriptions of Muslim graduates who managed to gain employment within successful companies but who felt that they did not fit in with the ‘office culture’, were unable to participate in many aspects of ‘team building’ particularly where they are limited in socialising with colleagues or felt uncomfortable with the pub lunches and after work business dinner venues.      

Blackaby et al (1997) suggest that the higher rates of unemployment for some groups may be more socially damaging than simple wage inequality. There are arguments regarding groups who are aware that they face greater levels of marginalisation and differential incorporation resulting in a loss of desire for social mobility within a society which is viewed as alien. Young men who see themselves as being denied jobs on grounds of their ethnicity may adopt alternative lifestyles in which resentment of the social structure can lead to conflict with the establishment. 

Pakistani Disadvantage

Pakistanis are still the most likely to live in poverty and deprivation, where families can become locked into disadvantage for generations. In the House of Commons report: ‘Child Poverty in the UK’, it was pointed out that 26% of white children lived in income poverty compared with 75% Pakistani children (but only 22% Indian children). The disadvantage can be apparent in multiple domains – employment, health, and quality of their accommodation.

The Sewell Report

Following are some extracts from the above government report:

The most concentrated pockets of deprivation are found among ethnic minority groups, particularly Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black groups. p38

People in the most deprived neighbourhoods tend to be disadvantaged across multiple aspects of life. Pakistani and Bangladeshi people were overrepresented in the most deprived neighbourhoods in England: 31% or around 346,000 of the Pakistani population and 28% or around 113,000 of the Bangladeshi population lived in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods in England. p40-41

Homeownership figures are: Indian 74%; White British: 68%; Pakistanis: 58%. p40

The life chances of the child of a Harrow-raised British Indian accountant and the child of a Bradford-raised British Pakistani taxi-driver are as wide apart as they are, partly because of the UK’s economic geography. p29

The employment rates for the White British and Indian ethnic groups were 77% and 76% respectively in 2019. For some others it was significantly lower at 69% for Black people, and 56% for people in the combined Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic group (this last figure is the result of a much lower female participation rate). p105

The pandemic is likely to have a mixed impact on the employment rate and financial stability of ethnic minority groups. For example, working in sectors shut down by the pandemic and being self-employed is particularly prevalent among Pakistani and Bangladeshi men. p108

The hourly median pay gap between all minorities and the White British ethnic group has shrunk to 2.3%, its smallest level since 2012 when it was 5.1%.223 This headline figure hides some large variations: the Pakistani ethnic group earned 16% less on average than the White British group. p110.

Most ethnic groups are now broadly level with the White ethnic group in terms of occupational class….with the exception of men from the Black Caribbean and combined Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups. p112

Meanwhile, Pakistani/Bangladeshi men along with Black African and Black Caribbean men, were the most vulnerable to unemployment in times of economic downturn, with the chances of getting a position in the top occupational class also declining over the decades for first generation Pakistani/Bangladeshi men. p112

The Bear Report

In the recent report by Laura Bear, for the ethnicity subgroup of Sage (the Scientific Advisory Group) has shed further light on the Pakistani (and Bangladeshi) community. While her focus was on Covid-19, it does point to the more general situation of the community. The following information is directly quoted from her report.

…our findings show that multiple disadvantages faced by ethnic groups join together to produce infection and death from Covid-19.

In summary, (Pakistani) experience more chronic, debilitating health conditions at a younger age due to health disparities. They mainly work in jobs in small-scale retail, transportation and hospitality, leading to greater exposure to Covid-19. Being precarious employees or business owners means that they are less able to negotiate paid sick leave or to stay home when unwell.

Health inequities: British Pakistani men and women have the highest levels of self-reported poor health of all ethnic groups. Pakistanis suffer severe, debilitating underlying conditions at a younger age and more often than other minority ethnic groups due to health inequalities. They are more likely to have two or more health conditions that interact to produce greater risk of death from Covid-19 (high confidence).

Occupation: Pakistanis are more likely to be involved in: work that carries risks of exposure (e.g. retail, hospitality, taxi driving); precarious work where it is more difficult to negotiate safe working conditions or absence for sickness; and small-scale self-employment with a restricted safety net and high risk of business collapse (high confidence).

In late September into October 2020, when case numbers were rising rapidly across most UK regions, hospitality and non-essential retail was kept open, exposing workers to risk of infection. When the UK entered a national lockdown on 5th November, essential retail remained open along with takeaway services even as numbers of cases rose steeply. At this point the relatively more transmissible variant emerged, creating a potentially greater risk of exposure for Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups who remained unable to work from home.

Precarity of Work: Pakistanis are also more likely to work in precarious work (short-term, contractual work, usually without union protection (high confidence). In this situation it is difficult to negotiate sick-leave, and if sick-leave is taken employees may be dismissed or penalised with shorter hours. The economic downturn is likely to have affected Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities disproportionately especially because of their profile of precarious work and self-employment.

Self-employment: (where incomes may be especially uncertain) is also more prevalent amongst Pakistani men. Pakistani men are over 70% more likely to be self-employed than White British men. This presents distinct difficulties in reducing the risk of exposure or self-isolating in the event of symptoms, as most self-employed work among Pakistani men involves contact with the public. Non-attendance at work would risk business’ viability, in part because government measures only offered one-off loans to small businesses and initially did not support the self-employed.

Household circumstances among Pakistani families amplify disadvantage due to higher numbers of multigenerational households, family members with chronic, disabling illness (at a younger age) and women involved in care work for family or others

Stigma: Pakistanis face intersecting forms of stigma and racism relating to their ethnic and their religious identity, and triggering events intensify experiences of stigma, including media coverage and central government Covid-19 interventions, for instance introducing restrictions during celebrations such as Eid and Ramadan. Stigma can cause health inequalities, drive morbidity and mortality, and undermine access to health services (medium confidence). 8. Over-burdened health services


Education is generally a determinant of success or failure in life. With reference to the Pakistani children it has been known that they have been behind many of the larger ethnic groups. 

When data first became available, in 1991, it was found that Pakistani children were underachieving. At this point 37% of white students were achieving 5AC at GCSE. The figure was 38% for Indian and 26% for Pakistani children. Since then Pakistani children have been playing catch-up. They have continued to do better but so have other children.

The Sewell Report states that:

Education is the single most emphatic success story of the British ethnic minority experience.

As we have seen, not all ethnic minority groups are succeeding. In particular, the Commission acknowledges the need to support Black Caribbean, Mixed White and Black Caribbean, Traveller of Irish Heritage, Gypsy and Roma, and Pakistani boys from low socio-economic backgrounds, and lower socio-economic status White British pupils. P70

In 2019, Pakistani children were 4.4% of the population in English schools overall. However, in nursery schools Pakistani children made up 9% of the children, which points to the future school population.

The Casey Review pointed out that in 2014 nearly 10,000 Pakistani children had left school without the benchmark 5+ A*-C grades including English and maths GCSEs. The most recent data on this is shown below.

Pakistani children have not succeeded in education like other groups.

Numbers and percentage of pupils NOT getting a strong pass (grade 5 or above) in English and maths GCSE by ethnicity 2019-2020  school year (P55)


White British               194,574           50.8%

Pakistani                     12,671             52.2%

Black African              10,500             49.3%

Indian                          4,774               29.6%

Black Caribbean          4810               65.2%

Bangladeshi                4428                42.7%

Gypsy/Roma               1244                91.9%

Chinese                       399                  20.4%

The situation in 2018 was similar, as shown in the chart below.

The largest number of ethnic minority pupils leaving school without the benchmark qualifications of 5 good GCSEs are British Pakistani children. That amounts to nearly 13000 children. It is worth asking what happens to these children. How many become involved in crime? How many end up in prison? What sort of citizens, neighbours, employees do they become? Many are boys. Bearing in mind Pakistani girls do better in education, what sort of husbands and fathers do the boys become? The big question is: who is going to speak up about this problem? Members of Parliament, local councillors, Pakistani organisations?

Related to education and employment are the figures for the teacher workforce. There is a serious shortage of Pakistani teachers. The situation is even worse at deputy and headteacher level.

As well as addressing the underrepresentation of Pakistanis in the teaching workforce, we need more representation on school governing bodies and at the structural levels of education in the UK.

It is the (Sewell) Commission’s belief that all professions should seek to represent the communities they serve. P76

Findings from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) suggest that teacher diversity makes it more likely that children of different backgrounds (whether ethnic, disability, class and so on) will have someone who understands their background and a role model to look up to.p125

Experiences from the Commission’s call for evidence also highlight that although teachers from ethnic minorities are valuable in that they bring their lived experiences to the classroom and push for a broader curriculum… p75

Ethnic minorities are also under-represented in school governance. 94% of governors and trustees who took part in the National Governance Association (NGA) survey identified as White, 1% identified as Black, 2% identified as Asian, and 1% identified as having Mixed ethnicity.p128

Diverse boards, that are reflective of school communities, can ensure that decisions taken are in the interest of all pupils, thereby increasing the confidence of parents and wider communities in these decisions. p75

Here, it is necessary to point out that diversity is essential in service organisations. Where the staff are representative of a community, in this case the Pakistanis, they are more likely to provide an appropriate and culturally competent service. And where the decision-making bodies are diverse they are more likely to reflect the views of the Pakistani community. It is the community’s democratic right to speak for itself in such bodies.

The Sewell Report has asked the Department for Education to produce guidance on data collection, monitoring and analysis to better support understanding and drive policy interventions in this area, engaging and collaborating with local authorities across the UK because of the importance of local context and local data. It would be good for NPO (Network of Pakistani Organisations) to write a letter to DfE, to make sure there is proper focus on Pakistani as a data category.

Aspirations play a key role in education. This influences whether young people go to university and/or the type of jobs they do. According to the Sewell Report the aspirations of Pakistani boys are reasonably high but lower than Pakistani girls. The report (p97) also points out that Pakistani graduates earn the least of all major ethnic groups.

Homework and extra-curricular activities

The Sewell Report emphasises the importance of homework and participation in extra-curricular activities.

The contribution of parents to supporting a child’s learning is significant and a stable home provides a supportive context for children to complete homework, ask for assistance and develop their confidence and wellbeing. P61

Previous research has found that Indian students are the ethnic group most likely to complete homework five evenings a week. P70

On average, across OECD countries, students who have access to a room for homework at school scored 14 points higher in reading than students without access to a room for homework. P84

Elite universities, for example, often look for evidence of extra-curricular activity such as volunteering when selecting students. p98

Research on Pakistani children (Iqbal 2018) has shown that homework is an issue for them. Many, especially those from poorer families, do not have quiet space in which to do their homework. Many children do not have the time to their homework as they go to the madrassah after school and by the time they return home they are too tired. Even if they do manage to do the homework, many do not have someone to help them with it. One solution could be the setting up of homework clubs in the madrassah, with help from the local schools.

Moreover, such children missed out on extra-curricular activities which are an important part of education. According to Iqbal (2018) such activities have been said to be beneficial especially for low socioeconomic status students. There is now emphasis on cultural literacy and cultural capital in education. Participation in extracurricular activities is said to be one source of such literacy and capital. Extracurricular activities enable children to acquire a valuable set of white-collar work skills – how to set priorities, manage an itinerary, shake hands with strangers, and work on a team. Research has shown that students who participated in extracurricular activities did better academically than their peers.

According to Ofsted education outside the classroom leads to improved outcomes in achievement, motivation, personal development and behaviour. It also provides extra depth to pupils’ learning and experience. Young people who participate in such activities tend to have higher test scores, a positive academic attitude and better attendance. Participation in extracurricular activities has implications for community cohesion as it is an opportunity for pupils to interact with those outside of their own ethnic group. Those who participate in them meet many new people, who they otherwise would not encounter. This facilitates encounters between young people from different ethnic and faith groups and leads to better understanding, thereby building community cohesion and tackling the tensions between different groups in the community.

Research has shown that extra-curricular activities enabled young people to gain entry to university and lead successful lives in the workplace. They pointed out that whilst academic grades were the most important factor considered by university admissions teams, evidence of extra-curricular activities remains an important part of the application process for 97% of respondents. Universities most value evidence of extra-curricular activities when deciding between applicants with similar grades and for courses that have an interview stage. Majority of universities indicated that it was important for students to demonstrate experience beyond academic achievements in their university applications and that 20- 30% of a student’s personal statement should be focused on extra-curricular experience. The capital that results from such activities can lead to familiarity with the dominant culture in society and ability to understand and use educated language.

For students who apply to Oxford, cultural knowledge has been found to play a significant role, alongside academic attainment, “perhaps because it allows the applicant to persuade the admissions tutors that they have the right sort of intellectual breadth and potential, which may not be adequately assessed by examination results”. The children also missed out on extra teaching activities. They were not able to stay and develop friendships with children from other ethnic groups. After they had been to the mosque they did not have enough time to do their homework. They were also too tired.

Mosques could work in partnership with local schools and organise homework groups as well. The children are there already. Mosques are quiet places which is what the children need for their homework and something they do not always have at home.

Extended school day

The Sewell Report proposes an extended school day, prioritising disadvantaged areas to provide pupils with the opportunity to engage in physical and cultural activities that enrich lives and build social and cultural capital. The Pakistani community are named here as being two groups in particular who would benefit from this provision. This would need to be fitted in to or around the children’s attendance at the mosque. Simultaneously, there is a need for good quality supplementary education. We have to be demanding on our mosque and madrassah teachers to provide a good quality and rounded education, which makes learning applicable to everyday life.

Covid disadvantage

A report on home learning and schools’ provision of distance teaching during school closure of COVID-19 lockdown in the UK has found inequalities experienced by Pakistani children.

Children receiving free school meals, from single-parent households, with less-educated parents, and with Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage spend significantly less time on schoolwork at home than their peers during the COVD-19 school closure.

Children with Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds spend the least amount of time on home learning and are overrepresented in not receiving distance teaching provisions.

… we find children who previously received free school meals, those from lower-educated and single-parent families, and those with Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds devote significantly less time to schoolwork at home during the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK.

… primary and secondary school children with Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds (P/B) spend substantially less time on home learning…

As there are proportionally more children with Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds who are in school but do not receive any schoolwork, the extent of disadvantage these children experience might be even larger than our estimations.

That is, it is not ethnicity that makes Pakistani or Bangladeshi children study less each day; rather, their schools are less involved in ongoing learning. These schools may have fewer resources, or they may be in areas more affected by the pandemic.

Pakistani women

The Sewell Report made these comments on Pakistani women.

Women in the Pakistani/Bangladeshi group also tend to have persistent disadvantages relative to White women in terms of both employment status and class position. Three quarters of the first generation and around half of the second-generation women in this group were economically inactive, although the situation has improved in the current decade. p112

More than half of women in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups are economically inactive, compared with a quarter of White women. This helps explain why Pakistani and Bangladeshi families are disproportionately represented in lower income deciles…. adults from a Bangladeshi and Pakistani background were the most likely not to speak English well or at all. p43


There are a number of particular health problems faced by the community. Pakistani men have the highest rate of heart disease in UK and Pakistanis are 5 or 6 times more likely to have type 2 diabetes.

From time to time the issue of infant and perinatal mortality appears in relation to the Pakistani community. Two recent reports have focused on this issue in the West Midlands. According to one report:

…proposed causal factor for this is the higher rates of consanguineous relationships in the Pakistani community. It was found that 49.9% of Pakistani mothers were in consanguineous relationships, compared to 15.9% across the whole cohort.

Only mothers from Pakistan had a statistically significantly higher proportion of stillbirths compared to mothers born in the UK

The other report pointed out that while there are 14% Pakistanis in Birmingham they account “for 34% of total child deaths, 45% of chromosomal, congenital and genetic deaths and 21% of perinatal and neonatal deaths.” The “prevalence of the West Midlands consanguineous unions was around 50% in Pakistani mothers”. ,


Muslims make up 4 % of the population but currently are 15% of the prison population. What are the causes of this disproportionality? What are the links with educational underachievement? What are the other causes? The issue deserves our attention.

Positive discrimination for Pakistanis

Pakistanis were late arrivals in the UK, certainly as a settled community, with families and children, as a result of the ‘myth of return’:

For many years Pakistani men in the UK were of the view that they were here temporarily and would return home after they have made enough money. This meant they did little towards settling down. Meanwhile, other communities (such as Black Caribbean and Indian) had begun to settle down and engage with struggles for equality. 

The myth only became articulated and known as such at the publication of Anwar’s book (1979). They were already disadvantaged as a community, going back generations under the Dogra and British rule. Upon arrival in the UK they were behind other minority groups and have stayed behind. The disadvantage has continued to be passed onto the younger generation causing them to underachieve in education. They in turn will pass it to their children unless steps are taken otherwise.

Often Pakistani disadvantage and exclusion can be hidden in umbrella categories such as BAME, BME, Asian and Muslim. This is especially so where the advantaged communities such as Indian and Chinese are included. In Birmingham, it was found (Iqbal 2013) that a number of organisations (Birmingham City Council, Birmingham University) had a diverse/BAME/BME/Asian workforce. However, when the data were unpicked it was discovered that Pakistanis were underrepresented or completely absent. Khan has made a similar argument, with reference to BME graduates.

If, say, a target for a greater number of BME graduates were applied, this would most likely benefit Chinese and Indian people before benefiting Black, Bangladeshi or Pakistani people. This is, in fact, what we observe in the Civil Service fast stream, where the overall BME proportion now nearly (but not quite) matches the overall population, while very few Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin people are appointed, and almost none are appointed in some year. p15

It is good to see the Sewell Report support diversity across “all professions”:

It is the Commission’s belief that all professions should seek to represent the communities they serve.

teacher diversity makes it more likely that children of different backgrounds will have someone who understands their background and a role model to look up to.

Ethnic minorities are also under-represented in school governance.

Diverse boards, that are reflective of school communities, can ensure that decisions taken are in the interest of all pupils, thereby increasing the confidence of parents and wider communities in these decisions.

Unless there is a specific and targeted focus on the Pakistani community’s representation in organisations as employees and decision-makers, the community will continue to be absent or poorly represented.

Such targeted focus to address the problem will require positive steps. This has been allowed, as Positive Action, under the equality legislation since as far back as the 1976 Race Relations Act but has made little difference to the community. What is required is a change in law, to allow Positive Discrimination for the Pakistanis. Only then will we see a truly representative workforce and decision-makers – across the education sector, service organisations, professions, employers – and achievement in education that compares favourably with communities such as the Indians, Chinese and now Bangladeshi. Such a change in the law will require the support of elected representatives; the councillors and the Members of Parliament and campaigning organisations. With a levelled playing field Pakistanis will then be in a position to compete with others more fairly.

There has been little discussion of such an idea. With reference to Birmingham (Iqbal 2013), it was suggested that given the wholesale exclusion of Pakistanis, from opportunities and power, a city-wide Positive Action scheme should be put into place across all institutions. Since then Khan has supported a similar approach in his report. He has pointed out that, while arguments for specific policies are not well understood in society, the “response, however, should be to adopt a variety of targets for different BME groups, and especially to target those that are most disadvantaged” (p15).

Causes of differential outcomes?

According to the Sewell Report the causes of unequal outcomes for some ethnic groups are not just to do with racism but are caused by broader factors.

The picture of educational achievement across ethnic groups is complex, and different social, economic and cultural factors contribute to this: parental income levels, parental career and educational achievement, geography, family structure, and attitudes towards education within the family and wider community.

Pay determining characteristics used by the ONS here are the following: ethnicity; country of birth; occupation; highest qualification level; age; sex; marital status; working pattern; disability status; working in the public or private sector; geography; whether they have children or not.

For many key health outcomes, including life expectancy, overall mortality and many of the leading causes of mortality in the UK, ethnic minority groups have better outcomes than the White population. This evidence clearly suggests that ethnicity is not the major driver of health inequalities in the UK but deprivation, geography and differential exposure to key risk factors.

David Goodhart, a Commissioner on the Equality and Human Rights Commission posed the following question? which is worth reflecting on by the British Pakistani community:

Which differences in group outcomes arise from some unfair form of discrimination such as racism and which arise from behaviour patterns and preferences associated with a particular group?


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Dr Karamat Iqbal

Karamat left school at 16, with few qualifications. 9 years later he achieved his Bachelor of Education. Later, he achieved a Masters and now a PhD. He has worked as a Youth Worker, Teacher, Community Relations Officer and Deputy Director: Equalities. Karamat has worked as a Schools Adviser and consultant for government departments. His work has been used in Parliament. Karamat has written on education and diversity: ‘Dear Birmingham’ (about Pakistani exclusion) and the report: Arts & Cultural Needs of Birmingham’s Pakistani Communities; and most recently, British Pakistani boys, education and the role of religion. He blogs for Optimus Education and volunteers as a Hospital Chaplain.

Dr Serena Hussain

Serena is an Associate Professor. She completed her PhD in Sociology at the University of Bristol and a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Geography at the University of Oxford. Before joining the Centre for Trust Peace and Social Relations, Serena acted as the Principal Scientist on International Migration and Multiculturalism at Charles Darwin University in Australia. She has worked as an expert consultant for a number of British government departments, with organisations such as Ipsos MORI, BBC World Service and Islamic Relief Worldwide. Her recent book, ‘Society and Politics of Jammu and Kashmir’ was published earlier this year.

Imran Arif

Imran is a professional educator, who has worked in various roles and at different levels of education in the UK. He gained his MA in Education from the University of Leeds. Imran has also worked as a process and dialogue facilitator and as a social researcher on a number of academic and community-based projects. His teaching and research interests span the areas of the social sciences, with a particular interest in social psychology, comparative religion, and philosophy of education.