The type of work varies from adult phone lines and webcam performing to in-person escorting and selling sex on the street
By Katie Grant
Women are selling sex as a second job due to the cost of living crisis, i has learned.
As rising inflation, soaring energy bills and real-terms wage cuts gnaw away at household budgets, greater numbers of women have been left with no option but to turn to sex work to put food on the table, outreach groups told i.
There has been a “significant” uptick in single mothers – both women already holding down a primary job and others reliant solely on universal credit – entering the sex industry or returning to it after managing to leave, the organisations say.
The type of work varies from adult phone lines and webcam performing, for those with a laptop and reliable internet connection, to in-person escorting and selling sex on the street.
The decision to sell sex is “almost always motivated by economic need”, said Rosie Hodsdon, a spokeswoman for sex worker safety charity National Ugly Mugs. “It’s absolutely the case now,” said Ms Hodson, who is a sex worker herself.
Ms Hodson attributed the rising number of women entering the industry to the cost of living crisis, which began while the public was still feeling the strain of the Covid pandemic.
“The cost of living crisis is coming on top of Covid, pushing more people into financial need. A lot of people doing sex work are doing it alongside other jobs – the stagnation of wages is part of that as well,” she said. Women are also trying to supplement benefits after years of freezes by selling sex, she added.
Niki Adams, a spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), said it is “definitely true” that the cost of living crisis has driven more women into sex work. Calls to the ECP from women seeking advice have risen by around a third in recent months, Ms Adams said.
Many of the calls are from people who have recently entered the industry for the first time, but a large proportion are from women going back to sex work who had been able to leave but are now “drowning in debt” and unable to pay their mortgages. Others have “really basic survival expenses” they cannot afford.
“People add up the bills and their wage just isn’t covering it. The energy bills have already gone up. There’s just no slack because the wages in other jobs traditionally done by women are very low, especially for mums, while the cost of childcare is extortionate,” Ms Adams said.
Since November 2020, British wages have stagnated, with average weekly wages including bonuses, hovering between £593 and £600 between then and December 2021, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.
The cost of living has rapidly risen since then, with energy bills soaring and annual inflation reaching a 40-year high of 10.1 per cent in August, before dipping slightly to 9.9 per cent in September.
In the three months to July 2022, total pay, which includes bonuses, in the UK grew by around 5.5 percent, while regular pay grew by 5.2 per cent. When this was adjusted for inflation, however, total pay fell by 3.6 per cent and regular pay shrank by 3.9 per cent, ONS figures show.
Meanwhile, people claiming benefits such as universal credit are facing “the biggest permanent real-terms cut to the basic rate of benefits ever made in a single year”, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has warned.
Earlier this year, then chancellor Rishi Sunak promised to raise universal credit and other working age benefits in line with inflation. However, Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has announced his intention to cut benefits to push more people into workforce as part of the Government’s plan to “make work pay”.
Now the Prime Minister is expected to increase benefits in line with average earnings at 5.4 per cent as opposed to inflation, at just under 10 per cent.
“Reneging on the promise to raise benefits in line with inflation as usual would be a hostile and harmful act of historic proportions,” said Katie Schmuecker, principal policy adviser for the JRF.
“It is morally indefensible for a government who have chosen to target tax cuts at the richest, to target spending cuts at those on the lowest incomes who are not responsible for this crisis.”