13:25 GMT16 January 2021
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    Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, highlighted the situation in a report, where he wrote that he had met people “who have sold sex for money or shelter” during his visit to the United Kingdom last November.

    The Work and Pensions Committee in the House of Commons has launched an inquiry into “survival sex” in response to evidence showing that an increasing number of women have been forced to turn to prostitution to pay rent or feed their families, The Independent reported.

    “We have heard sufficient evidence, and are sufficiently worried, to launch this inquiry to begin to establish what lies behind the shocking reports of people being forced to exchange sex to meet survival needs. This is an investigation, and we do not yet know what we will uncover. But if the evidence points to a direct link between this kind of survival sex and the administrative failure of universal credit, ministers cannot fail to act”, said Frank Field, and independent MP who chairs the committee.

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    The inquiry stems from the committee’s ongoing probe into the Universal Credit system, but it will also explore links between survival sex and other policies that drive claimants to poverty.

    “There are a number of people participating in survival sex so they can feed their families or prevent loan sharks with baseball bats coming round to enforce debts. I am shocked we live in a country where this actually happens. My head tells me that I should not be surprised, because it is difficult to survive on the money you have got with universal credit, let alone when it is taken away”.

    Spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes Niki Adams said that there had been an uptick in prostitution in the United Kingdom caused by rising poverty and cuts to single-parent benefits.

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    While welcoming the committee’s inquiry, Adams said that there’s been an increase in calls to the ECP’s phone line from women asking for help with universal credit.

    “Women are either saying they are already working as a sex worker and having to do more, because of having their income sanctioned, or going into prostitution for that reason. One woman who had two children – one with a disability – called saying she had calculated her income would drop by a third when universal credit came to her area. She was totally distressed on the phone”, Adams said.

    Field raised the issue of sex survival during a parliamentary debate in October 2018, telling the then-Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey, that some women in Birkenhead constituency were “taking to the red light district for the first time” due to universal credit.

    At the time, McVey replied that Field could “tell these ladies that now we’ve got record job vacancies – 830,000 and perhaps there are other jobs on offer”.

    The inquiry is expected to look into features of universal credit that might push people into agreeing to sex for money, as well as the changes that could be made to prevent claimants targeted by benefit cuts from turning into sex workers.

    sex workers, debts, inquiry, prostitutes, prostitution, investigation, probe, credit, poverty, United Kingdom
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