The claim

“58 per cent of Muslim women are economically inactive… If you’re not showing your face it precludes you from a lot of jobs”

Paul Nuttall, 28 May 2017

The background

Ukip leader Paul Nuttall set out his views on Muslim women in a TV interview on Sunday.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that “58 per cent of Muslim women are economically inactive”. He appeared to link this to Muslim women covering their faces, adding in the same breath: “If you’re not showing your face it precludes you from a lot of jobs”.

Ukip proposed banning the niqab or burqa in public places in their recent manifesto.

Is it true that most Muslim women are economically inactive? What does that really mean? And does it have anything to do with wearing a veil? FactCheck investigates.

A Muslim woman votes at the 2015 General Election. How will Ukip’s views affect voters this time?

The analysis

The headline figure checks out. Mr Nuttall is basing his claim on this Office for National Statistics report, which says 58.4 per cent of Muslim women in England and Wales were economically inactive in the year ending December 2015. The equivalent figure for non-Muslim women is 42 per cent.

What does this actually mean?

The ONS defines someone as economically inactive if they are over 16 years old, not in employment and “have not been seeking work within the last four weeks and/or are unable to start work within the next two weeks”.

Economically inactive people are either: retired, in education, looking after their children or families, or have a long-term illness or disability.

There are around half a million Muslim women who fall into this category. Of that group:

  • 44 per cent are not working because they’re looking after their families. The equivalent figure for non-Muslim women is 14.9 per cent.
  • 21.3 per cent are students, nearly double the figure for non-Muslim women (11.4 per cent).
  • 9.4 per cent have a long-term illness or disability (non-Muslims: 8.7 per cent).
  • 10 per cent are retired, compared to 60 per cent for non-Muslim women.

Being economically inactive is not the same as being unemployed

By definition, if you’re economically inactive you either don’t want to work, or you can’t. People actively seeking employment are classed as unemployed. The difference is important when it comes to claiming some benefits like Jobseekers Allowance, which are only available to people who can show they are actively looking for work.

Mr Nuttall appears to be confusing the two categories. When he says “if you’re not showing your face it precludes you from a lot of jobs”, it sounds like he’s talking about women trying and failing to get jobs because they are wearing a veil. But by definition, this doesn’t apply to women who are economically inactive.

There’s also the issue of how many of those economically inactive Muslim women wear a full face veil. Figures from other European countries suggest the prevalence of the niqab or burqa is less than often supposed (only around 2,000 women in France cover their faces), but we can’t find any reliable figures for the UK.

Of course, for Mr Nuttall to prove his theory about the veil being linked to economic inactivity, he would have to come up with some figures. We’ll update if Ukip get back to us on this.

The verdict

The figure for economic inactivity is accurate, but Paul Nuttall seems confused about the difference between economic inactivity and unemployment.

Economically inactive Muslim women are not looking for work. Nearly half are looking after families, 10 per cent have a long-term illness or disability, and a fifth are students.

Mr Nuttall suggests that wearing the niqab is the reason for 58 per cent of Muslim women being economically inactive. That doesn’t stand up.