A 21-year-old carer has told how she was pushed into sex work as Universal Credit left her £52 to live on.
The anonymous escort, known only as T, gave harrowing evidence to MPs who are examining links between “survival sex” and the six-in-one benefit system.
In a private hearing in Parliament, the woman said she was sofa-surfing and scrabbling together cash for tampons or a Pot Noodle after running out of cash.
She had worked 12-hour shifts as a carer while struggling under the old benefit system. She then visited foodbanks three times waiting for her first UC payment in January.
When her UC did come through, she claimed £148 was deducted leaving her “£52.50 or something to live on.”
She added it was “horrible” but sex work ended up being “the easiest thing to keep us girls alive.”
The testimony – dubbed “very brave” by a DWP minister – came as four women dubbed T, K, B and M gave evidence to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee.
The hearing was held behind closed doors but a partly-redacted transcript was released this week.
T said she was working 12-hour shifts as a carer when the DWP “refused to pay my rent” – because she didn’t turn up to a Jobcentre appointment during her working hours.
She later applied to Universal Credit at which point “I got put on the sick duty, trying to end my life”.
In the six weeks she waited for her first payment, she said, she visited food banks the maximum possible three times.
She told MPs: “I had heard about a girl who was dancing and things and she told us about escorting.
“I used to judge people like that, you know, I would never do nothing like that, but I thought it was the easiest way.
“Like I had done one job and I could go and I paid my rent, do you know what I mean?
“That one job made us feel on top of the world. So now my Universal Credit claim is still going, but I am not entitled to any money.”
The DWP insists no one has to wait five weeks – reduced from six – for their first UC payment because they can get an advance.
But advances have to be paid back out of future benefits.
T said: “I only spend £20 on gas and electric a fortnight, do you know what I mean, and that is cheap.
“I am trying my best, £30 on shopping, not a penny over, because if I go a penny over I can’t get other stuff that I need, tampons and things, do you know what I mean?
“That Universal Credit advance, by the time I got it I had spent it and then I was waiting another three to four weeks for my benefit.
“Even then when I got my benefit, they were taking £150 off my benefit and I was left with £50.”
T told MPs she is currently living between friends’ homes after losing her house when she fell behind on rent.
She said: “I am sofa-surfing and obviously I am a sex worker, so I pay my fees daily to use an apartment.
“Whatever money I make that day, I pay some rent so I can stay there that night, just get like a Pot Noodle.
“If I pay £60 for one day, I can stay there that night.
“But I am having to do five or six duties of sex before I get to pay my rent and stuff.”
The woman, who said she left school aged 11 and had mental health issues, told MPs she was put on a computer course but struggled to manage her Universal Credit claim.
She told MPs: “I really do struggle a lot. I can’t remember my passwords and stuff and they basically said it was an excuse.
“So I just thought that obviously sex work, like it is the easiest thing, honestly it is.
“It is horrible to say, but it is the easiest thing to keep us girls alive.”
She added: “I did two 12-hour shifts last week. Obviously it is horrible for you to listen to, but us having sex for 12 hours for two days in a row is a lot.
“You probably do it for an hour and stuff and think, ‘Oh my God, I am knackered’. We are doing 12-hour days, do you know I mean?
“Like it is a lot just to think, ‘Oh, I have done this for 12 hours today. I have my gas, electric and my food and tomorrow I am going to have to do it all over again to pay my rent’. It is awful.
“What happens if one day we don’t want to and we don’t feel like it or lady things happen?
“Because that is another thing, like when it is your time of the month and stuff, we do not want to work.
“Yes, you have to use sponges. You probably don’t even know what they are.”
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) minister Will Quince – who sat in on the private evidence session – vowed to examine the testimony carefully.
He said the women were “very brave” to speak out after going “horrific experiences”, and their testimony showed “we need to better understand this area.”
He said “work has already started” to examine whether there is a link between Universal Credit and “survival sex”.
He insisted the DWP had made changes including “developing new food insecurity measures” to study hunger, £2billion more into UC, shorter waiting times, bigger advance payments, and an end to sanctions longer than six months.
He added it was “not just about the DWP” but the women had been failed by other parts of government in early life.
But he told MPs: “We will of course consider very carefully the evidence you’ve presented us with about links between survival sex and the benefit system.
“I want to reiterate to the committee how seriously I personally take this issue.
“I’m hugely concerned to hear of individuals who feel they have no choice but to turn to sex work in order to get by.”
Former Tory MP Heidi Allen said the testimony showed “I, Daniel Blake is not a fiction film. It’s how life is for the most vulnerable.”