A significant growing number of women in England are left with no option but to take up sex work to meet their daily expenses, including the high cost of living in England. They are increasingly forced into prostitution because the government isn’t paying them enough money to cover food and rent costs. Conditions inside London the capital of Great Britain is daunting as 18-19 year old teenage girls, and single mothers are becoming stressed over the financial hardship that the universal credit has caused.
A series of witnesses working in special charities to help the women involved in the prostitution business told the MP committee that a strong link had been determined between the benefit changes and prostitution (also referred to as survival sex). The witnesses also gave examples of those women who started selling their bodies for money for the first time or returned to prostitution as escorts in London several years later because of the financial hardship because of having to wait for a more extended period of time for the payments of universal credits to be disbursed, or because of the benefit sanctions.
Laura Seebohm from Changing Lives charity disclosed that most teenage girls and single mothers are working as part-time London escorts because their salaries aren’t enough to make their ends meet. They are selling themselves because of the issues within the universal credit system. She further said that most women are getting themselves into sex work because of the desperate poverty driving them to sell their bodies. The main reason for this is that they need money for clothes, food, and other daily necessities. Seebohm further said that when they took a single mom to a food bank, she thanked them and told them that she doesn’t have to sell sex now, “as the food bank will put food on her table now”.
The committee started its inquiry in March to find out the truth behind all of this. It also launched an investigation in response to the shocking reports that the universal credit design is forcing female health workers to sell sex for cash, food, or rent. The committee will soon examine and find out if the universal credit is driving teenage girls and single mothers to turn to survival sex or not.
The UN reporter on poverty reportedly met people who are selling sex for money or shelter during his visit to the UK last year, and in his report, he highlighted that how the austerity has hit teenage girls and single mothers equally and without any discrimination. According to his report, he claimed that all of the women are equally targeted intentionally.
Niki Adams from the English Collective of Prostitutes shed light on the matter and shared her findings to the committee that most escorts and prostitutes are single mothers and are victims of the desperation caused by poverty because of the faults in the design of the universal credit. She added that a woman could go without a meal, but that is another kind of pressure if her children are starving.
Helen McDonald, another young female from Nordic Model Now, told the committee her perspective that teenage girls and single mothers aren’t working as London escorts to get their hands merely on cash. Sometimes it is about the cash, and other times it is about somewhere to sleep or get food. These teenage girls and single mothers are forced to have sex to get dinner.
According to the department for work of pensions, the cuts in benefit money aren’t linked with survival sex. There is no evidence whatsoever that the cuts in benefit money or faults in the universal credit system are forcing women to turn to prostitution. According to historical trends, the department also stated that an increase in prostitution is always because of the poverty associated with the welfare systems.
Amber Wilson from the charity named Basis Yorkshire said that in the past, it was also noted that the increase in the bedroom tax and shortage of money caused the women to work as escorts. However, today the design features of universal credit and the cuts in the benefit money have made it an even bigger barrier.
Sarah McManus from the Way Out added in front of the committee and told that the financial hardship caused by the delay in payments and the benefits cut is driving the single women towards prostitution and survival sex.
The committee also noted that most of the women feel intimidated and excluded while applying for universal credit. As the payments made by the department are unpredictable and the government is cutting the benefits, alongside the rude behaviour of the job centre staff.
Blair Buchanan said some women aren’t making up their minds to apply for universal credit because they think they will get caught up in a dehumanizing system. All of this will ultimately alienate them in the future.
Most women are placed in the impossible situation where the only light at the end of the tunnel is to become an escort in London or another busy UK city. Raven Brown added that sex work and prostitution just for survival embedded itself in the wider social inequality. He further added that most single mothers are doing this to themselves because we can see a wider gap in average pay, insecure work environment, late payments and cuts on benefits, austerity-related issues, and some other factors.
The recently announced inquiry to look into the link of universal credit and the cuts in benefit money to the survival sex feels like a breath of fresh air for women working as part-time escorts to make their ends meet. In some of the major cities of the UK, the rise in prostitution is directly connected with the benefit sanctions. While all of this is going on, we hope that the cuts in benefits and the faults in universal credit systems are abolished, and the austerity cuts are reversed once and for all.