Universal Credit and Survival Sex: sex in exchange for meeting survival needs

19 March 2019

The Work and Pensions Committee is calling for evidence  -  from anyone affected or with experience of this issue - about a possible link between  Universal Credit and “survival sex”.

“Survival sex”

Changing Lives, a charity supporting women working in prostitution, distinguishes “survival sex” from other forms of sex work (such as escorting), and defines it as:

Women regularly [exchanging] sex to meet survival needs, monetary or otherwise. Alternative currencies include somewhere to sleep, alcohol, drugs, food and tobacco.

The Committee has opened this phase in its Universal Credit inquiry in response  to reports from charities and support organisations that increasing numbers of people—overwhelmingly women—have been getting involved in “survival sex” as a direct result of welfare policy changes. These include the roll-out of Universal Credit.

In his recent report on extreme poverty in the UK, the UN Special Rapporteur, Professor Philip Alston, described meeting people who:

Depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who have sold sex for money or shelter[.]

Through its work on different aspects of Universal Credit over the last two years, the Committee has identified number of features of the policy that may contribute to claimants having difficulty meeting survival needs.

For example:

  • The wait for a first payment, which is a minimum of five weeks but can be a lot longer;
  • The accumulation of debt: for example, as a result of third-party deductions to benefits or taking out an Advance Payment at the start of a claim;
  • Sanctions, which are applied at a higher rate under Universal Credit than under the system it replaces.

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“We have heard sufficient evidence, and are sufficiently worried, to launch this inquiry to begin to establish what lies behind the shocking reports of people being forced to exchange sex to meet survival needs.

This is an investigation, and we do not yet know what we will uncover. 

But if the evidence points to a direct link between this kind of survival sex and the administrative failures of Universal Credit, Ministers cannot fail to act.”

Write to us 

We’d like to hear from you if you’ve had to exchange sex for basic living essentials, like food or somewhere to live. This will help us to understand what is happening and to make the right recommendations to the Government. 
We understand that telling your story might be difficult. You can ask for your evidence to be anonymous (we’ll publish your story, but not your name or any personal details about you) or confidential (we’ll read your story but we won’t publish it).

The Committee is inviting anyone with experience of or affected by this issue, in any capacity, to send us a written submissions on any or all of the following questions:

  1. What features of Universal Credit might drive people into “survival sex”? How does Universal Credit compare to the previous benefits system in this respect?
  2. How widespread is this problem? To what extent are any increases in prevalence directly attributable to Universal Credit?
  3. Are some claimants at particular risk of turning to “survival sex”? If so, who are they and what are the risk factors?
  4. What changes to Universal Credit could help tackle this problem and better protect claimants?
  5. What role should Jobcentre Plus play in supporting claimants who are involved in “survival sex” or sex work more widely?

You can share your story or evidence - we’d like to hear from you by Monday 29 April 2019.

We will also hear oral evidence in Parliament later in this inquiry.

Further information

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