The second national lockdown is going to push sex workers “even deeper into crisis”, according to a campaign group.
The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) has called for state support for workers in the coronavirus pandemic.
It said people were having to choose between risking their health by working or seeing their family go hungry.
Cari – not her real name – from the ECP said the new restrictions made it “more urgent that the government provide the emergency payments we are demanding”.
She said the government needed to address “sex workers’ illegal status that prevents women claiming the entitlements available to other workers”.
About 80% of sex workers were single mothers operating in order to take care of their children, she estimated.
Former sex worker Cari, from the Bristol area, said while a lot of women had stopped working because of safety concerns, some had continued as they did not have access to any financial aid.
“Those who have to work are being very careful with clients. It is very, very difficult. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” she said.
‘Accessing support impossible’
Rachel Mac Dermot, from Bristol’s One25 charity, said: “These women are the most marginalised, the most stereotyped, the most stigmatised. And I hate that.
“They could be your mum, your sister, your daughter, your best friend.”
During the pandemic, the charity had to close down its women-only safe space but it has been providing food parcels to women who have been self-isolating.
“It’s a bit different at the moment but before the pandemic we had a GP, a sexual health nurse and prescribing nurse visit each week,” said Ms Mac Dermot.
“Accessing support like healthcare, that you or I might take for granted, can be practically impossible for some women we meet.”
Cari said she hoped the government would legalise sex work and acknowledge what sex workers did counted as work.
“Criminalising it makes it so much harder to come forward and access help. Sex workers currently can’t even go to their GP’s to get help, since it’s illegal to do sex work during the pandemic,” she said.
“But there are also no financial aids for sex workers, so how will this work? We have to decriminalise sex work. We have to.”
A government spokesman said: “We have no plans to change the law around prostitution and are committed to tackling the harm and exploitation associated with sex work.
“Universal Credit is providing a vital safety net to those who need support during the pandemic.”