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MPs call for action on women driven to ‘survival sex’

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Work and Pensions Committee calls for government action on the link between Universal Credit delays and “survival sex”.

The committee said the government had previously been “dismissive” of the issue but had now changed its position.

A number of women told the Work and Pensions Committee they turned to sex work because their benefits payments did not cover their basic needs.

The committee’s inquiry was driven initially by a committee member’s direct experience in their constituency. Specialist support organisations told him that problems with Universal Credit were pushing women into survival sex.

“Survival sex” is when people (mostly, but not exclusively, women) have to turn to sex work to meet their basic survival needs, including money, food, shelter or clean clothes.

The Work and Pensions Committee said the five-week wait for people’s first payment is often why people say they are forced to exchange sex to meet their needs.

The committee heard from one woman who said she had been forced to perform sex acts on a shop manager in exchange for food, due to a lack of benefit payments.

The committee accused the Department for Work and Pensions of having “largely ignored these personal, frontline testimonies” in its initial response to the link, before starting a full inquiry.

Frank Field MP, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “The women who gave evidence to us were courageous enough to share some enormously difficult and distressing experiences, in the hope of helping us and the department to better understand this issue.”

Welcoming the “public acknowledgement” by minister Will Quince his department had “got it wrong”, a report by the committee said the DWP has shown a “pattern of unwillingness to engage with frontline evidence about the impact of its reforms”.

The committee is demanding the Department for Work commission a full review on improving services for claimants who turn to survival sex. MPs also demanded the DWP cut the five-week wait for payment and properly evaluate people’s lived experience on Universal Credit.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We take all evidence presented to the Committee very seriously and are extremely concerned to hear of these experiences. We are determined to ensure that no one finds themselves in this position and are committed to providing a safety net for the most vulnerable in society.

“Improvements have been made to Universal Credit such as extending advances, removing waiting days, and introducing housing benefit run on, and we are carefully considering the report’s recommendations.”