By ITV News’ Dani Sinha
Often referred to as the world’s oldest profession, sex work is happening all around us – whether it’s online, on the streets or indoors.
But spiralling living costs mean many sex workers are having to accept more potentially dangerous clients and work longer hours.
It’s seen some women return to the industry either full time or as way of subsidising other jobs.
Meanwhile, some have reported wanting to leave sex work but now feel they can’t.
The English Collective of Prostitutes say women contacting them asking for help rose by more than 30% compared to last year.
They say just under half their calls (47%) over the last few months are due to the cost of living crisis.
Most of the calls and emails they took were from women worried about housing, childcare, benefit cuts and food bills.
We spoke to “T” (not her real name) who is in her mid twenties and got into sex work four years ago.
‘I can never seem to leave sex work, and it feels frustrating that there is nowhere I can turn to’: ‘T’ told ITV News’ Dani Sinha she fears losing her home if she quits sex work
She wants to leave the industry but feels she can’t as she’s disabled and is at risk of losing her home in a no-fault eviction.
“I can never seem to leave sex work and even when I’m doing it my clients feel increasingly more and more degrading and it feels frustrating that there’s nowhere I can turn to,” she said.
“It’s harder for me to place down boundaries. I don’t feel like I can seek support from certain services like the police if something happens, or healthcare if something happens.
“I have to declare my taxes but I can’t always access housing and benefit support as I can’t declare where my income is coming from.”
She is not alone. Other sex workers we have spoken to have the told us how their job has become more dangerous.
“Carly” is a former care worker who says austerity, the pandemic and now the cost of living is making life harder.
“This is my only form of income at the moment,” she said.
“So I feel quite tied to having to take bookings and do things that clients want me to do which are not part of my list of services.
“I was working full-time in a caring job, I couldn’t afford to pay my rent on that salary.
“When I first began doing sex work I was working both jobs alongside but I was really burned out by doing two emotionally demanding jobs – so at the time pay rate is better with sex work so that was the best option for me.”
One organisation in Leeds is at the sharp end of offering support to sex workers.
Basis Yorkshire offers outreach support to women three times a week and has a van that comes to the aid of street workers who haven’t got money to feed themselves.
They provide everything from giving out mobile phones to making sure women are fed and have access to health services.
Amber Wilson from Basis Yorkshire told us: “When they come to us, it’s usually around utility bills, not being able to afford food – the really, really basic stuff.
“Sex workers are having to look longer for clients. They are having to negotiate harder. Clients are pushing the boundaries a little bit more about what they can get for their money.”
Money is what brought Sarah back to sex work.
She’s an international student and has a regular client – also known as a “sugar daddy” – who pays her in return for her time and sexual services.
Her visa excludes her from taking most jobs which is why she relies on sex work to pay the bills.
“I just went back into doing sex work here because I knew it was a way that I could afford to do my degree,” she said.
“I haven’t had to make huge compromises in my safety but I could be in that position at any minute. My sugar daddy could be like I don’t ever want to see you ever again. I’ve considered going into brothel work.”
Many women feel safer working in numbers and while it is legal to sell sexual services, it is against the law for two sex workers to work from the same flat as it’s considered to be a brothel.
Campaigners believe the law needs to change.
A spokesperson from Hookers Against Hardship told us: “We want to get those laws removed so that people can work together for safety or that people don’t get criminalised because they have to work on the street.
“We’re seeing lots of mothers having to enter sex work either because they struggle with the cost of childcare or their rent or bills are going up.”
The government told us: “We are committed to tackling the harm and exploitation that can be associated with prostitution and believe that people who want to leave prostitution should be given every opportunity to find routes out.
“Our welfare system provides a strong financial safety net for millions of people every year, enabling them to support themselves and their families while building towards financial independence through work. We urge people to check they are getting all the help to which they are entitled.”
As winter bites, it’s likely more women will have to take huge risks to earn what they need to survive.And due to stigma, more crimes against sex workers are likely to go unreported.