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Universal Credit and ‘survival sex’

  • 21/03/2019
  • Author:Liam.Evans@turn2us.org.uk

Claimants are turning to prostitution to feed their families

Woman leaning on car

A group of MPs are launching an inquiry into ‘survival sex’. They will look into the practice where benefit claimants, impoverished by Universal Credit or sanctions, have turned to prostitution to pay rent or feed their families.

The Work and Pensions Committee are the team of politicians that hold the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to account. They have opened this inquiry in response to reports that a significant number of women have been getting involved in ‘survival sex’ as a direct result of welfare policy changes.

How common is this?

The situation was highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston, who said that he had met people “who have sold sex for money or shelter”.

The English Collective of Prostitutes, a self-help organisation for sex workers, has noted an increase in prostitution in the UK as a result of rising poverty and cuts to single-parent benefits.

This position has been confirmed by Tomorrow’s Women Wirral, a charity in Birkenhead that runs a sex worker outreach programme. They said a number of women in street prostitution said they had been pushed unto it by issues with Universal Credit.

Are you affected?

The inquiry wants to hear from people who have had to exchange sex for basic living essentials, like food or somewhere to live.

They are asking the following questions:

  • What features of Universal Credit might drive people into “survival sex”? How does Universal Credit compare to the previous benefits system in this respect?
  • How widespread is this problem? To what extent are any increases in prevalence directly attributable to Universal Credit?
  • Are some claimants at particular risk of turning to “survival sex”? If so, who are they and what are the risk factors?
  • What changes to Universal Credit could help tackle this problem and better protect claimants?
  • What role should Jobcentre Plus play in supporting claimants who are involved in “survival sex” or sex work more widely?

Visit the Universal Credit and Survival Sex inquiry website to send a submission

Matthew Geer, Campaigns Manager at Turn2us, said:

“We are appalled to hear that there is evidence linking Universal Credit failures to survival sex.

“We know from the thousands of people that use our services every month that Universal Credit is a system which has many flaws.

“Some of the major issues we have been told about are the five-week wait forcing people to foodbanks, the backdated childcare payments which are stopping parents from returning to work and the rigid monthly assessment period causing chaos for thousands.

“To now hear that there is evidence that vulnerable people are resorting to selling sex to make ends meet should be a wakeup call to Government. People are resorting to extremely desperate acts as a result of a system that is pushing them further into poverty rather than helping them to escape it”.

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