WestEndExtra

The independent London newspaper

Sex workers left on sidelines in virus crisis

Calls for emergency money for those who ‘live in the shadows’ as social distancing rules and stigma of trade hit hard

27 March, 2020 — By Tom Foot

The English Collective of Prostitutes wants sex workers to get immediate easy-to-access financial support

SEX workers fear they will be not be supported by government financial bailouts and have warned of a “hidden crisis” in their industry because of coronavirus.

The English Collective of Prostitutes said members were severely affected by “social distancing” regulations.

They rely on the kind of personal contact that “we are being warned against if the virus is to be contained”, the group said.

Most members were mainly self-employed single mothers who were already “forced by criminalisation, stigma and discrimination to live in the shadows”.

They are just one group of self-employed workers who had, before this week, not been included in UK financial packages unveil­ed by the chancellor.
ECP demands include:

• Immediate easy-to-access financial support for sex workers in crisis and worker status so they can get sick pay, wage relief and the benefits that other workers are demanding.

• The decriminalisation of sex work and an immediate moratorium on raids, arrests and prosecutions.

• Rent, mortgage, utility bill relief and emergency housing for homeless sex workers.

Government austerity measures have pushed many women to rely on income from sex work to survive, the ECP said.

It added: “Sex workers are denied status as workers so we are denied the rights and entitlements ­other workers may have. We must have access to emergency money.

“Many of us, and the families who depend on our income, will face destitution if we can’t access whatever emergency money workers win from the government.”

The statement said that sex work was contributing to the “survival and welfare” of many people struggling in poverty in the city.

The ECP said most sex workers are mothers made deliberately destitute by government austerity policies and that hundreds of thousands of families in the country “rely on the income from sex work to survive”.

It added: “Much sex work involves personal contact – exactly what we are being warned against if the virus is to be contained. Some women are turning to non-contact forms of sex work, like ‘camming’ where possible. Women working on the street, migrant and trans workers, who already have the highest rates of poverty, arrest and violence, are particularly suffering.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said that workers on zero-hours contracts would be covered, as long as they were paid through Pay As You Earn.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs this week: “We will do whatever we can to support the self-employed, just as we are putting our arms around every single employed person in this country.” He said there were “particular difficulties” for freelances who are not on PAYE schemes, but that he wanted to achieve “parity of support” across the workforce.

Yesterday (Thursday) the chancellor announced certain financial measures designed to help self-employed workers but exact timings and full details of relief available were not immediately clear.

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