Of the approximately 72,800 sex workers in the UK, at least 88% are women. Prostitution has always been connected to women’s poverty – that’s why overwhelmingly clients are men and sex workers are women.
Prostitution is increasing because poverty is increasing. 86% of austerity cuts have targeted women.
Child poverty has gone up: 30% and in some London boroughs and areas of the North-East and Midlands 55% of children live in poverty.
Government policies of benefit sanctions and the introduction of universal credit have deliberately caused destitution and pushed more women, particularly single mothers, into prostitution to feed themselves and their families.
Since the pandemic destitution has skyrocketed and women’s organisations, including sex worker organisations like the English Collective of Prostitutes, report having to organise for food vouchers and donations to keep families afloat.
Issues raised in parliament
The Coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated poverty, homelessness and debt. Thousands of sex workers are dependent on food banks to survive.
Demands for the government to provide emergency payments for sex workers in crisis, worker status so that women could get wage relief, sick pay and the benefits that other workers can claim, healthcare regardless of immigration status, and a moratorium on arrests, were picked up by some MPs who tabled questions to the government about the lack of support.
These demands for emergency help were not supported by the proposer of this motion.
Evidence submitted to the 2019 Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into Universal Credit and Survival Sex focused on the impact of austerity on levels of prostitution in the UK. The Committee published its findings in November 2019.
It recommended action against some of the worst injustices of the benefit system such as draconian sanctions and the five-week delay to get Universal Credit which have increased destitution and pushed many more women into “survival sex”.
The former homelessness tsar recently raised the alarm about growing destitution in the pandemic, warning mothers could have to “go out and prostitute themselves, so that they could put food on the table.”
Evidence from sex workers was also presented to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty who commented on “the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time.”
The Home Affairs Committee 2016 Inquiry recommended: “… the Home Office change existing legislation so that soliciting is no longer an offence and so that brothel-keeping provisions allow sex workers to share premises.”
It called for “previous convictions and cautions for prostitution [to be deleted] from the record of sex workers”.