Of the approximately 72,800 sex workers in the UK — at least 88% are women. The majority are mothers working to support families.
Prostitution is increasing because poverty is increasing. Approximately, 86% of austerity cuts have targeted women.
We have been shouting from the rooftops for years that women are being pushed into prostitution by rising poverty
Government policies of benefit sanctions and the introduction of Universal Credit (UC) have deliberately caused destitution and pushed more women, particularly single mothers, into “survival sex” to feed themselves and their families. When the UC £20 uplift is scrapped, only three in 10 women who claim will be in a situation where their monthly income is higher than their monthly spending.
Evidence from sex workers to the 2019 Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into Universal Credit and Survival Sex resulted in the Committee recommending changes to draconian sanctions and the five-week delay. Evidence was also given by sex workers to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty whose searingly critical report commented on “the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions”.”
Instead of addressing the increase in poverty caused by its economic policies, the response from the government (both national and local) and the police have been to increase arrests, criminalisation and crackdowns against sex workers. Measures that would help women exit prostitution include: repealing universal credit, benefit sanctions, the benefit cap and bedroom tax, reinstate Income Support for single mothers and a Care Income.
Outlaw Poverty Not Prostitutes!
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UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights (2018)
The UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights reports on UN member states’ ‘initiatives taken to promote and protect the rights of those living in extreme poverty’. The ECP’s submission to the Rapporteur points to the way austerity cuts have targeted women, with special note of single mothers, women who are carers, and EU migrant women. It criticises the increased criminalisation of sex work and the ways in which the police abuse their powers.
The Rapporteur’s scathing report and statement condemned the UK Government’s “‘punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous“ austerity policies which could have been designed by a “group of misogynists” in the way austerity affected women.
Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into Universal Credit and Survival Sex (2019)
Written and oral evidence from the ECP to the Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into Universal Credit and Survival Sex focused on the impact of austerity on levels of prostitution in the UK.
The Committee published its findings in November 2019 and recommended action against some of the worst injustices of the benefit system such as draconian sanctions and the five week delay to get Universal Credit which have increased destitution and pushed many more women into “survival sex”.
Read the ECP’s full submission
See video below of oral evidence session, Wednesday 22 May 2019.
Witnesses: Helen McDonald, Member of the Management Committee, Nordic Model Now! Blair Buchanan, Activist and Organiser, representing SWARM and Niki Adams, Spokesperson, English Collective of Prostitutes