An investigation by The Sun this week revealed that motorists named Mohammed are being charged up to £919 more in car insurance than men with typically white, English names. Some of the UK’s largest insurance providers are alleged to have each quoted a higher insurance premium to clients named Mohammed. When the paper made an identical application in the name of “John Smith”, they were quoted significantly lower rates.
The insurers have denied discrimination, with one of the biggest names saying on Twitter that their insurers “do not and never have used a customer’s name or any other piece of information to rate on race. The insurance quotes in the news today were not like for like.” Another major insurer told The Sun investigator that it “did not discriminate” and that they would look into the allegations further.
Whether or not the Sun story turns out to be accurate, the discriminatory nature of insurance is well-documented. In 2012, the EU introduced legislation to prevent insurers from implementing gender-based premiums, since up to then men had been charged more. The issue has not gone away – in 2015, Stephen McDonald, an economist at Newcastle University, reported that insurance providers bypass EU regulations that prevent gender discrimination.
Meanwhile being penalised is nothing new to the Muslims who are frequently overlooked for jobs because of Muslim-sounding names, routinely pulled aside for extra security questioning or dragged off planes while on their holidays. In an analysis by community cohesion group Faith Matters, stop and search practices are more than twice as likely to target people of colour, and an Asian is 80 times more likely than a white person to be detained at a port or airport.
There are also more subtle injustices embedded in the insurance model. As a matter of routine, insurance companies consider the postcodes and crime rates of motorists when deciding on policy rates. In short, those living in impoverished areas are likely to pay a higher premium for their insurance, regardless of how frequently they claim on their policies.
Perhaps Mohammeds live in high-crime areas, then, as the benefit-of-the-doubters on social media claim. But in that case, how is this anything more than a poverty tax? And if so, shouldn’t we contest it, in the same way that campaigners have taken up the cause of lower income households forced to use more expensive prepaid meters which trap them in a cycle of fuel poverty?
If Mohammeds are being quoted a higher premium than John it would simply be a symptom of the structural biases and discrimination that permeate throughout the commercial and corporate worlds. If Mohammed can’t get a foot in the ladder at work, or can’t rent a flat in a better postcode, then he will be paying a discriminatory premium his entire life – or until this unethical and illogical insurance practice is outlawed.
It should not be the responsibility of marginalised communities to hold companies to account for their discriminatory practices. In the United States, health insurance providers will charge on average 15- 20 per cent more to cover a smoker, but this is freely available information. Mohammeds don’t get to choose their name or ethnicity.
Almost all Mohammeds are Muslims, so it’s easy to understand the outrage towards the insurers, who are now writing to clients denying their policies are discriminatory. Insurance providers must be transparent about the process that resulted in men with one overtly Muslim name being charged almost one thousand pounds more for insurance.