Universal Credit claimants turn to 'survival sex' to make ends meet as ministers urged to axe waiting times
Ministers are facing renewed calls to slash waiting times for Universal Credit payments after MPs heard from claimants who have turned to “survival sex” to make ends meet.
The Work and Pensions Committee found people, mostly women, had been forced into prostitution to cover basic needs, including money, food, shelter and even laundry.
The new welfare system, brought in to try and bring multiple benefits into one, has been slammed over rules meaning the first payment is not made until five weeks after an application is made.
MPs on the cross-party group said while they welcomed the Government’s shift from its previously “defensive, dismissive and trite” position on the link between Universal Credit and sex work, action was now needed to help claimants.
The committee heard from one woman who said she had been forced to perform sex acts on a shop manager “for months” in exchange for food, due to a lack of benefit payments.
They accused the Department for Work and Pensions’ of having "largely ignored these personal, frontline testimonies" in their initial response to the link, before starting a full inquiry.
Welcoming the “public acknowledgement” by minister Will Quince his department had “got it wrong”, a report by the MPs said the DWP has shown a “pattern of unwillingness to engage with frontline evidence about the impact of its reforms”.
They said the Government must scrap the five-week wait and said the loans currently offered are a “sticking plaster” over a “fundamental design flaw”.
In the meantime they must offer non-repayable advances to claimants who would otherwise suffer hardship, and to do more to ensure that money is paid directly into the claimants’ bank account and not a partner or friend to help combat abuse.
They also call on them to improve, publicise and monitor the non-digital means of applying for Universal Credit and to properly evaluate the system on the basis of claimants’ “lived experience” of the benefit.
Writing for PoliticsHome sister title The House as the report was published, committee chairman Frank Field said: "We believe that there are many improvements the DWP urgently needs to make, particularly surrounding the five-week wait and ensuring access to the benefit by those without internet access, bank accounts, or those with additional circumstances such as prison leavers.
"We are grateful to the minister, Will Quince MP, for acknowledging that the DWP’s response on this issue was wrong, and providing a more substantive answer to our enquiries. Yet this is not the first time that we have received inadequate responses from the department, and forms part of a disturbing pattern.
"This report examined just one facet of the social impact of universal credit, yet it found much suffering to which the department was blind."
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson 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.”