Claimants turning to ‘survival sex’ during five-week Universal Credit delay – MPs warn
The five-week wait for the first Universal Credit payment is often why people say they are forced to exchange sex to meet their survival needs, MPs have warned.
An inquiry by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee found that the wait for payments was why some claimants said they turned or returned to prostitution.
The committee called on the Government to remove the five-week wait for the first payment – which it described as a “fundamental design flaw” – and offer non-repayable advances to vulnerable claimants at risk of hardship.
It also warned that people would continue to be driven to so-called “survival sex” for as long as benefit rates “fail to match the amount of money that they actually need to live on”.
The committee reiterated its call for the Government to increase the rates of frozen benefits by CPI plus 2% from next year, to reach the level they would have been set if they had not been frozen.
It also criticised the Department for Work and Pensions’ initial engagement with the inquiry as “defensive, trite and superficial”.
But the MPs welcomed the intervention of minister Will Quince, who sat in on an evidence session where the committee heard from four women involved in sex work due in part to problems with the benefits system.
One woman told the inquiry that she was about to be moved on to Universal Credit and would lose around £200 a month.
“The thought of going into debt and having no money is really frightening. I have children. I can’t do that. I will sell my body,” she said.
Another woman, whose experience was shared with the inquiry by a welfare rights adviser, had turned to shoplifting food because of the wait for the benefits payment but was caught.
She said: “The manager said if I gave him [oral sex] he’d let me off. What could I do? It was that or have the police called. I just did it. I just kept thinking ‘please don’t call the police’.
“Anyway, he said afterwards that if I did the same next week he’d let me have forty quid’s worth of stock. It seemed like a fortune. […] In the end, I held out for two weeks.
“I got my [UC] money, and again it was short, and again it was gone on bills before I’d even thought of food. So, I left the baby with next door and went down to the shop […] It’s been like that for months now.”
The MPs wrote: “We have repeatedly called on the Government to eliminate the five week wait, and we reiterate that recommendation in this report.
“We heard repeatedly in evidence that the long wait for a first payment is often the cause of people turning, or returning, to survival sex.
“In the meantime, the department should offer non-repayable advances to vulnerable claimants who would otherwise suffer hardship.”
Committee chairman and Independent MP Frank Field (pictured) 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.
“We are grateful for the minister’s intervention, which helped to ensure that we, and more importantly the people who bravely gave their evidence to us, got a more meaningful response.
“Welcome though that was, that cannot be the end of it. The department, having belatedly acknowledged that there is a problem, must take the steps to resolve it.”
A DWP spokesman said: “We take all evidence presented to the committee very seriously and are determined to ensure that no one finds themselves in this position.
“We are committed to providing a safety net for the most vulnerable in society and have made improvements to Universal Credit such as extending advances, removing waiting days, and introducing housing benefit run on.”
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