Desperate mothers have been forced into prostitution due to delays in Universal Credit payments, MPs will hear today, as a parliamentary inquiry into so-called ‘survival sex’ gathers pace.
Women with children are among those affected by rules governing benefits on the crisis-hit system, campaigners have warned.
It comes as the United Nation’s special rapporteur on poverty, Professor Philip Alston, published his final report following an investigation into deprivation in the UK.
Alston told last year how he had met people who “sold sex for money or shelter” during a tour of the country.
The parliamentary inquiry by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee will on Wednesday morning hear testimony from expert witnesses from women’s charities and groups.
The probe is looking at evidence that Universal Credit – which replaces six legacy benefits into one single monthly payment – has been linked to increases in “poverty and misery”.
MPs will also explore claims that the reform has left women with no option but to exchange sex for living essentials or extra cash.
Lydia Caradonna, of the group Swarm Collective, told HuffPost UK that any changes to policy which make people poorer often lead to a rise in the numbers of people entering the sex industry.
“When we started looking into why people were entering the sex industry we realised so many of the new sex workers were people who had struggled with Universal Credit,” she said.
“The people who have been hit hardest by Universal Credit are families with children. We see that the vast majority of people who enter the sex industry are trying to support children, feed kids, and have struggled with changes under Universal Credit, making them poorer by sometimes a couple of hundred pounds a month.”
“There’s a huge problem with Universal Credit in that lots of things don’t happen immediately,” she added. “So you will have people already in crisis claiming Universal Credit having to wait weeks or even months to get their first payment. People already in crisis do not have the resources to be paying up front even knowing they’ll get money in the future.”
Caradonna said Swarm considers “survival sex” to be a broader issue than simply a means to pay rent. ”A lot of the discussion around ‘survival sex’ has revolved around ‘sex for rent’ or ‘sex for food’,” she said. “But when we talk about that we think of it as sex work where a person does not have the option to turn down clients.”
Anna Stephenson, of the financial hardship charity Turn2Us, said some specific aspects of Universal Credit could be worsening the situation for women living in abusive relationships.
“One issue that could be driving women to ‘survival sex’ is the way Universal Credit defaults to a single payment,” she told HuffPost UK.
“If you are potentially in an abusive relationship it may be that ‘survival sex’ becomes a way of getting some money in your own pocket if you’re not perhaps that free to engage in regular work and not able to get your benefits split as they used to be.
“It used to be that benefits for children would default to the primary carer whereas now you nominate a single person in a household to get all the benefit. But, of course, not everyone in a household may be free to make fully consensual choices.”
The Department for Work and Pensions did not respond to a request for comment but has previously said that a record-level of employment was allowing women to take control of their finances.