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What could I do? It was that or have the police called'. Universal Credit claimants have spoken out about turning to survival sex after the benefit payment left them with too little to live on in a new report handed to the government. One woman claims she was asked by a shopkeeper to perform oral sex after she was caught shoplifting food, while others admitted they had turned to prostitution for extra cash.
MPs are calling for an end to the five-week wait for an initial Universal Credit payment, which they say is one of the main driving forces for women turning to sex work to cover basic needs like food and accommodation. An inquiry by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee has called for urgent action warning that people will continue to be driven to sex work for as long as benefit rates "fail to match the amount of money that they actually need to live on".
The committee heard from a number of women who claim they have had to exchange sex for money or other needs after being placed on the new benefit system, which rolls six previous benefits into one monthly payment. One 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. It was that or have the police called. I just did it. I just kept thinking 'please don't call the police'. It seemed like a fortune. So, I left the baby with next door and went down to the shop [ I have children. I can't do that. I will sell my body," she said. A year-old woman told the committee that sex work was "the easiest thing to keep us girls alive".
She said she struggled to make ends meet after getting an advance on her first payment, which was then deducted from later payments. The committee's report also criticised the Department for Work and Pensions' DWP initial response to the inquiry as "defensive, trite and superficial". A spokesperson for the DWP said: "We take all evidence presented to the committee very seriously and are determined to ensure that no one finds themselves in this position.