A cross party committee of MPs has warned that many women in Britain are resorting to “survival sex” because of problems with Universal Credit payments.
The Work and Pensions Committee found women were being forced to work as escorts or prostitutes in brothels to make ends meet because of the shortcomings of the Universal Credit system, which has led to delays in payments.
The report said single mothers were especially vulnerable and often fear losing custody of their children if their sex work becomes known.
Survival sex and Universal Credit. What kind of country is this? https://t.co/EkB1o1wzcV— Sarah Hurst (@Life_Disrupted) October 25, 2019
A 21-year-old woman identified only as T told the committee she had to give up her job as a carer because of mental health problems following sexual abuse as a child.
She then turned to sex work because her universal credit payments did not cover her basic living costs.
T told the committee: "It is horrible to say, but it is the easiest thing to keep us girls alive.”
The report found those turning to “survival sex” often found it difficult to disclose their occupation to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Issues around #UniversalCredit are driving women to ‘survival sex’ because these issues mean they have little or no income. This #Tory Gov should be ashamed and Universal Credit should be scrapped. https://t.co/D52iRkEhXd— Mary Williams (@MaryUnite) October 25, 2019
A woman known only as M said: “I have currently failed to get any form of benefits because I am too scared to disclose what I do for work, especially because I currently work in an illegal brothel and we have faced police harassment before, so I really can’t have it on record anywhere what I do.”
The committee heard that some claimants were waiting five weeks for their first payment and some women were resorting to sex work, rather than taking loans at high interest rates.
Another woman, Ms J, had given a London shop manager oral sex in return for him not calling the police after she was caught shoplifting for food.
"What could I do? It was that or have the police called. He said afterwards that if I did the same next week he'd let me have £40 worth of stock. It seemed like a fortune," said Ms J.
Earlier this year we provided evidence to @CommonsWorkPen inquiry into universal credit and survival sex.— Changing Lives (@ChangingLives__) October 25, 2019
Our Executive Director of External Affairs @LauraSeebohm responds to the publication of the report here https://t.co/fAXdeO4Opu https://t.co/k6bAavdqRv
Dr Raven Bowen, Chief Executive of National Ugly Mugs, a support organisation, told the committee “survival sex” was linked to “desperation and deprivation.”
Dr Bowen said deprivation often pushed people to engage in more risky forms of sex work, such as street prostitution, which meant “survival sex” workers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation or violence from customers.
The DWP originally described reports linking universal credit and survival sex as "anecdotes" and said it could not be "robustly attributed as a sole cause" of the issue.
But Work and Pensions Minister Will Quince later apologised and said there was a need for better understanding of the problem.
The committee's chair, independent MP Frank Field, said: "The department, having belatedly acknowledged that there is a problem, must take the steps to resolve it.”
The committee has recommended the DWP scrap the five-week wait for the first payment and offering non-repayable advances to vulnerable claimants, especially single mothers.