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The Work and Pensions committee has begun an enquiry into universal credit (UC) and survival sex.

The committee says it has received reports from charities that claimants, mainly women, have been selling sex in order to survive. The problem has been brought about by changes in welfare policy and particularly the rollout of UC.

The committee believes that three main drivers of survival sex may be:

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.

The committee say:

“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:

“What features of Universal Credit might drive people into “survival sex”? How does Universal Credit compare to the previous benefits system in this respect?

How widespread is this problem? To what extent are any increases in prevalence directly attributable to Universal Credit?

Are some claimants at particular risk of turning to “survival sex”? If so, who are they and what are the risk factors?

What changes to Universal Credit could help tackle this problem and better protect claimants?

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.”

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