Blog Post

What can we learn from Zakat to fight poverty in London?

Ideas for working together and reducing stigma from anti-poverty campaigners across London.

People in communities helping each other out. Support from your neighbourhood to manage in hard times. A helping hand, without judgement.

These are parts of the vision that we shared at our recent private roundtable with the National Zakat Foundation (NZF) as part of the 4 in 10 campaign’s London Challenge Poverty Week.

For this event, we bought together a group of anti-poverty campaigners from across London – including councillors, representatives of other faith groups, and experts from charities.

Dr Sohail Hanif, Chief Executive of the National Zakat Foundation, gave an insightful presentation on their work alleviating poverty in Muslim communities in the UK.

We then discussed what we could learn from this. Here are some of the key themes.

Support by local people, for local people

The National Zakat Foundation collect and distribute Zakat – religious charitable donations given by Muslims to help those in need.

A lot of Zakat funds are sent abroad by diaspora communities. Dr Hanif explained that part of the Foundation’s work is showing the need closer to home.

Both that there are holes in the ‘safety net’ of the UK welfare system, and that supporting those in need in your community is an important part of Zakat’s purpose and meaning. This point really resonated with the group.

As one attendee said, “support by local people, for local people” is vital. It helps build solidarity. And it meets needs directly.

“During Covid, we helped people out next door, not at the other end of the country”, as another guest pointed out.

Providing direct help without stigma

Keeping support local is linked to ‘doing with, not doing to’ people and communities.

Many people who receive support from the National Zakat Foundation need help because of the impact of a single event. Ill health, for you or your partner. Separation. Experiencing abuse.

If you’re struggling but coping, these events can easily push you over the edge and into debt – particularly if income is lost. But if you’re affected by a negative moment in your life, it can be hard to ask for help.

We spent a long time talking about how to reduce stigma and help people come forward. It was noted that there are around £15billion in unclaimed benefits each year.

There were some fantastic examples of effective outreach to say, ‘support is available’. Through housing associations, with text messages sent automatically if a payment is missed, home visits for older people.

But on top of that, there was also agreement on the principle that support should be empowering. Anyone could be one life event from needing help. One day from difficulty.

That the National Zakat Foundation deliver direct cash grants was noted as a welcome exception to the conditionality of many benefits.

Other positive examples included a food club model, where members can choose the items they need from a donated goods given, and tools to help people with their financial planning.

Working together to fight poverty   

The huge challenge of successfully connecting people who need help with the help that’s available came up as a central theme.

How do we do this? Working together. As one attendee powerfully said, “we all have a piece of the puzzle”.

There were lots of ideas for how organisations could collaborate. Many centred on groups being able to connect the people they helped every day to other organisations with additional support.

Working together can also help funds go further. The National Zakat Foundation funded places for Muslim residents in a church-run homeless shelter – allowing the shelter to expand overall.

But what was exciting is that as well as new ideas, there were several people promising each other to start working together straight away.

At Centre for London, we’re delighted to be able to bring people together to help create a fairer London.

Find out more about the work of the National Zakat Foundation.

Find out more about the work of 4 in 10 – London’s Child Poverty Network.  

Read Centre for London’s Levelling Up In London report or explore our borough-by-borough interactive maps.