Universal Credit has been introduced to group all six of the previous benefits into one monthly payment. It was portrayed to be an improvement to the previous system, but, with a less than simple application process and major delays in payments, it has hit tenants of the UK hard.
A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions has told the BBC: “No-one has to face hardship on Universal Credit, and 100% advances are available from day one of a claim.”
However, we have heard many comments from those who have struggled to make rent payments, with some being evicted. Some are barely scraping by and relying on food banks to feed their family.
The extremeness of this situation has only been further emphasised by this recent report of a woman forced into prostitution, as a result of the inadequate benefits systems that is letting us all down.
The English Collective of Prostitutes has been receiving reports of women who have turned to sex work, as a result of Universal Credit issues. Spokesperson Cari Mitchell has informed the BBC: “Most sex workers are mothers and most of those are single mothers. They’re placed in an impossible situation where for increasing numbers the option to go into the sex industry in order to survive becomes real.”
“Julie”, from Merseyside, was forced to go eight weeks without financial aid, as she waited for her first payment, after being transferred onto the new system. She became so desperate that when she was offered £30 for sex, she accepted.
Julie, who asked for her real name to not be used, commented: “I’m ashamed to admit, I have slept with a guy for money. It’s something I never ever thought I would be ever capable of doing. I just didn’t think it was in me as a person.
“So I’m, like, very disappointed in myself and ashamed of myself. I had to use food banks. I’ve never been in that situation in my life. I’ve really struggled.”
The BBC has reported that five charities and organisations in England have confirmed to them that there is an increasing number of women on Universal Credit, finding themselves in situations such as Julie’s.
Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead, also reported to MPs, during his intervention in the House of Commons in October, that Universal Credit meant “some women have taken to the red-light district for the first time.”
The response from Esther McVey, the Work and Pensions Secretary at the time, was that something needed to be done to change this. She commented: “Perhaps [Mr Field] could tell these ladies and the work coaches that now we have got record job vacancies – 830,000 job vacancies – and perhaps there are other jobs on offer.”
However, Mr Field has informed the BBC that the Government has yet to approach him about the issues he raised in parliament.
Julie was interviewed for the You and Yours show on Radio 4, on which she stated that the delay in receiving the first payment left her no choice but to turn to sex work. She said: “I didn’t go out looking for it, I said no at first. It wasn’t until about three weeks later that I said ‘OK, yeah,’ because I thought I need to, because I need money.
“It was during the eight weeks that I was waiting to get the Universal Credit. It couldn’t wait eight weeks for money. I just couldn’t.
“It definitely wasn’t a decision I took lightly. I was so angry with myself afterwards. But I’ve been put in that situation and I had no choice.”
Since the interview, Julie now receives her payments. She said “without it, I would be on the streets, I would have no food. I’d have nothing”.
Angela Murphy, from the Tomorrow’s Women Wirral charity, has commented on the situation. She says that Julie is not alone: “That’s a very familiar story … the delay [in payments] is massive, how are you supposed to cope?
“So people think it’s as a quick fix: ‘I’ll go out, do a bit of sex work, it’s a quick fix’. But then they get trapped.”