Sex Work in a Pandemic: Criminalising Survival

London: Austerity cuts, the introduction of the harsh Universal Credit scheme and the Hostile Environment has driven more people to sex work to meet their basic needs. Despite this, sex work remains a criminalised profession that is not recognised as legitimate work. The pandemic further exposes the injustice caused to sex workers by outdated laws and policies. Danielle Worden reports on the rise of survival sex Since 2010, the UK government has embarked on a severe programme of public spending cuts known as ‘austerity’. Alongside this, it has set out to create a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants living, or hoping to live, in the UK. This environment has been intensified by a stricter approach to migration justified by Brexit. These policies have caused significant socioeconomic harm to minorities including migrants, women, LGBTQ+ people, people of colour and people with disabilities. To avoid destitution, there has been a surge of people turning to ‘survival sex’ – sex work to secure income or resources to meet basic survival needs – over the past ten years.
A profound example of how Government policies have driven more people to sex work is the Universal Credit scheme. Universal Credit, which was introduced in 2012, merges six separate benefits into one monthly payment. As of 2020, the basic rate of Universal Credit for under-25s is a mere £85.68 per week. It is beyond dispute that the scheme has intensified socioeconomic inequality: in July 2019 the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee reported that Universal Credit was ‘pushing some people not only into poverty, but into hunger and destitution’. The Universal Credit scheme is supported by the second harshest sanctions of any benefit scheme in the world: refusing a job offer can lead to payments being withheld for three months. Further hardship is created by the minimum five weeks waiting time for the first payment, with waiting times often being up to 12 weeks.
Read more: Danielle Worden, Justice Gap,

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