Soaring costs and lack of cash is forcing more students into the sex industry, claims NUS women’s officer Estelle Hart.
In a Five Live interview Hart said that “students are taking more dangerous measures” and blamed “an economic climate where there are very few jobs, where student support has been massively cut”. She warned that “it’s all dangerous unregulated work, simply so people can stay in education.”
The English Collective of Prostitutes, an organisation that campaigns for better rights for sex workers, echoed these statements, reporting that the number of students calling its London helpline had at least doubled in the last year.
Sarah Walker, a representative of the Collective, blamed the Government for the unprecedented rise in calls following the decision to raise the cap on tuition fees to £9,000.
“They [ministers] know the cuts they’re making are driving women into things like sex work. It’s a survival strategy so we would hold the government responsible for that”, she said.
This increase follows a steady rise in student sex workers over the last ten years, according to a 2010 study by Doctor Ron Roberts of Kingston University. Dr Roberts suggested that steep tuition fees had driven students to work for chat lines, internet pornography, and lap dancing clubs. He described his findings as “worrying”, and added that universities’ reluctance to research student sex work was “burying their heads in the sand”.
The BBC highlighted difficulties for sixth formers, with some students finding their EMA (educational maintenance allowance) inadequate to fund their studies, allowing financially rewarding avenues like sex work to look increasingly attractive. But a Department for Education spokesman insisted: “We are targeting £180m a year financial support at the most vulnerable 16- to 19-year-olds to help them continue their studies – with transitional funding for the students who were getting the top rate of EMA and part way through their studies.
“It is down to schools and colleges themselves to award bursaries to young people who need the most help. If students are really struggling financially, they need to speak directly to their tutors.”
However in a recent interview with BBC Radio Sheffield, John Specht of the lap-dancing chain Spearmint Rhino, suggested that sex work like lap dancing was a valid source of student income: “with the rising student fees the students know that they can come in and earn the money they need to survive.
“At least at Spearmint Rhino we are a world known brand, it’s a fun, safe environment. They could be doing a lot worse things.”
Students are also turning to medical experiments and gambling as part of an escalating trend towards ‘quick money’ jobs.
The government maintains that it provides a “generous package” of financial support for students.