Response to the Report from the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into Universal Credit and “survival sex”
Laura Watson from the English Collective of Prostitutes, which gave evidence to the Committee says:
“The fury against Universal Credit is growing. Women and children are its first targets and single mothers have been hit particularly hard losing on average £2380 per year – that’s £40-50 a week.
The committee, by listening to sex workers and the organisations that support us, has recommended action against some of the worst aspects of universal credit, for example, abolishing the five week delay that has massively increased destitution and homelessness and pushed many more women into “survival sex“ As a result, the report strengthens demands for universal credit to be scrapped”.
Along with other organisations, the ECP gave evidence about an increase in women going into prostitution because of UC and in some cases going back into prostitution having left. The report quotes a woman in our group who spoke about being terrified of what will happen because she will lose money when she is transferred over to UC and she is already living on the breadline struggling to support her children. The report specifically mentions evidence we gave that ”many of those who turned to survival sex were single mothers, who may also fear losing custody of their children.”
We raised that Universal Credit is being introduced when women are already suffering from austerity cuts, (86% of which have fallen on women with single mothers hit particularly badly.)
We are particularly glad for the emphasis in the report on the five week wait before any money is paid. The Committee acknowledged that this alongside sanctions and the debt that resulted from being made deliberately destitute “drives women to engage in survival sex”. The five week wait is called a “fundamental design flaw” and the Committee reiterated its recommendation that it “must be eliminated”.
In addition, the Committee recommends that benefits be raised in line with the cost of living saying that even when people get their money “the amount they receive is simply not enough to live on. People will continue to be driven to survival sex for as long as benefit rates fail to match the amount of money that they actually need to live on.”
The report recommends that alternatives to the digital application system, that appears to be designed to put obstacles in the way of people making an application, are put in place — shockingly it reports that this results in “one in five applications are closed without payment because people don’t comply with the universal credit process”.
The Committee expressed its irritation that the DWP is ready to take peoples real experiences as evidence if they are positive about universal credit but not if they’re negative.
We reject the idea of an advisory Committee. The Universal Credit system cannot be salvaged and must be scrapped. For as long as sex workers are criminalised, no woman is going to disclose her status to job centre staff or anyone in authority. The Committee rightly acknowledges that people cannot disclose their situation “if they fear that they may be reported to the police or may lose custody of their children”.
This is a primary reason why we urged the Committee to recommend the decriminalisation of sex work and specifically demand that the government implement the 2016 Home Affairs Committee recommendation that “. . . 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” and that legislation should be drafted to provide for the “deletion of previous convictions and cautions for prostitution from the record of sex workers.”
The ECP is a self-help organisation of sex workers, working both on the street and in premises, with a national network throughout the UK. Since 1975, we have campaigned for the decriminalisation of prostitution, for sex workers’ rights and safety, and for resources to enable people to get out of prostitution if they want to.