Category: sex slaves

Universal Credit and modern slavery

Universal Credit and modern slavery
By Bernadette Meaden
JULY 18, 2018
Could Universal Credit facilitate modern slavery? It seems almost inevitable that it will, and not unreasonable to believe that it is already doing so.

If Universal Credit works perfectly as designed, claimants must wait five weeks for payment, during which time some people will have no income whatsoever. In reality, the wait can be very much longer. People borrow to survive. They can borrow from the government, by getting an Advance Payment, but this is deducted from their benefit when it is eventually paid, making a low income even lower.

So, far from being a solution, Advance Payments, or the need for them, are a part of the problem, which is why in Universal Credit areas debt can become such a big issue. People are turning to payday loan companies and in some cases, they are turning to loan sharks – who are by definition, criminals. In a 2017 survey on Universal Credit, housing providers noted “The reported increase in the presence of loan sharks within our communities is alarming, but sadly not surprising.”

But you can’t get blood from a stone. People with a very low or non-existent income cannot indefinitely keep up with demands for extortionate interest payments. So, what is the next logical step for a ruthless criminal? They take payment in other ways, perhaps in the form of sexual abuse, perhaps in the form of labour.

The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), a national team that investigates and prosecutes loan sharks, recently explained how becoming indebted to a loan shark can lead to modern slavery. In a blog How loan sharks are menacing victims and forcing them into modern slavery, they wrote: “Loan sharks are criminals who charge extortionate interest rates and use callous methods to force people to pay the money back. The IMLT have encountered victims being forced into prostitution, drug dealing, and illegal money lending by the loan shark.

“Debt bondage, also known as bonded labour, is the world’s most widespread form of modern slavery according to Anti-Slavery International.

“Debt bondage occurs when people borrow money they cannot repay and are required to work to pay off the debt, resulting in them losing control over the conditions of both their employment and the debt.”

This explanation of debt bondage was a guest post for the website of theClewer Initiative which aims to enable the Church of England to detect modern slavery in communities and help provide support and care to victims. It is funded by the Clewer Sisters, an order of nuns founded in 1852 to help homeless women who were drawn into the sex trade.

So a religious Order which was set up in the absence of a welfare state to help the victims of poverty and exploitation may now find itself indirectly helping people forced into modern slavery by welfare ‘reforms’.

And it seems clear that this is a growing problem. In May this year, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority reported that the three most common nationalities referred to them for labour exploitation were Vietnamese, British and Albanian, and that “In 2017, the number of British potential victims increased substantially (362 per cent)”. The numbers are relatively small at the moment, but only 10 per cent of benefit claimants are yet affected by Universal Credit. The mass migration of millions of people still on legacy benefits has the potential to create havoc, particularly for people with physical and mental health problems.

And sadly, when a family is tipped into poverty and debt, it is not only the adults who become vulnerable to exploitation. There is increasing awareness of the ‘county lines’ system run by organised criminals. As the Children’s Society explains, “County lines – or ‘going country’ – is when gangs exploit children, some as young as 12, to sell drugs across county boundaries…Gangs deliberately target vulnerable children, such as those in care or living in poverty.”

It seems inevitable that as Universal Credit rolls out, more adults will be driven into the arms of loan sharks and potential abuse and exploitation, and more children will fall prey to the criminal gangs just waiting to exploit their vulnerability. A country with a properly functioning welfare state, with true social security, would not leave its citizens vulnerable in this way.


© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Universal credit delays a factor in sex work, government accepts

Minister apologises for DWP memo dismissing link between long waits and survival sex work

Patrick Butler – Guardian

The government has dropped its hardline refusal to accept that destitution caused by five-week waits for universal credit payments has been a major factor in forcing some women to turn to sex work.

Giving evidence to the work and pensions select committee, the minister for family support, Will Quince, apologised for a memo his department sent to the committee last month and said it “did not very well reflect my views on this issue”.

The memo dismissed evidence that universal credit was a cause of increased numbers of women turning to sex work as anecdotal. It said the phenomenon was influenced by a range of factors, from drug addiction and the rise of AirBnB to EU immigration.

Quince told the committee he had changed his views after hearing accounts from four women who gave evidence of how impoverishment related to universal credit issues had led them to take up escort and brothel work.

“Those very brave testimonies of the young women who have gone through the most horrific of experiences gave me a better understanding through their lived experiences. What it showed me more than anything is we need to better understand this area,” he said.

A transcript of the private committee hearing in May included a testimony from M, a brothel worker. She said the fact that drug and alcohol drove people into survival sex work did not mean that universal credit had not caused “a really big influx”. She said: “It is particularly bad with universal credit because we have seen these huge waits, but the whole welfare system is stacked against us and it is pushing people into survival sex work.

“It is the long wait, it is the payments in particular that I think are really dangerous because when we apply for things like this we are in crisis already, like we don’t have the ability to wait, and sex work is the only real job you can go out and earn money that night.”

T, a care worker, who went into escort work after using food banks during a six-week wait for her first universal credit payment, said: “It is horrible to say, but it is the easiest thing to keep us girls alive.”

Another witness, K, said she had worked out she would be £200 a month worse off on universal credit. “I will sell my body. I want to tell this committee that there are a lot of girls out there just like me,” she said.

The committee also heard an unexpectedly positive, if qualified, endorsement of the recent report by the UN rapporteur Philip Alston, who last month called austerity cuts the “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population”.

Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, responded at the time by saying the report was politically biased. She alleged that Alston did not do enough research, having only visiting the UK for 11 days, and said the government would complain to the UN.

Donna Ward, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) senior civil servant responsible for children, families and disadvantage, told the committee chair, Frank Field, that it had fact-checked Alston’s report, which had in passing referred to a rise in survival sex.

“He made a lot of good points. It was factually correct,” she said. “I think where the secretary of state took issue with it, and where I as a civil servant can’t be involved, was the political interpretation of a lot of what’s happened.

“But in terms of the facts, in terms of austerity, cuts to local government, in terms of the reliance that we have on the labour market and the risks we face if there is a recession – all of those things were really good points that we have taken on board, and we should take on board.”

Government shown evidence of link between welfare reform and sex slave trafficking; UN report also condemns

sex workers

Women are being “forced into selling sex” because they have few other options and live in fear of the state, an MP has warned.

Steve McCabe’s comments come after the Work and Pensions Committee held its first parliamentary hearing on evidence that welfare reforms, including Universal Credit, are linked to a rise in “survival sex”.

The Committee heard evidence from charities and support organisations directly supporting people, mainly young women and mothers, who are involved in sex work in order to earn enough money for living essentials, such as food or a place to stay.

MP Steve McCabe said most of the witnesses at the hearing were young women.
Mr McCabe, a member of the Committee, said the majority of witnesses who attended the hearing were living in fear.

He told Sky News: “The witnesses we saw in private were all young women. They felt they had largely been forced into selling sex as they had few other options.

“They were all the product of abusive relationships and/or childhoods.

“In some cases they are mothers with young children and live in fear of the state or the “authorities”.

Mr McCabe added that most of the women lacked basic computer and online skills and often had an incomplete education and issues accessing Universal Credit.

He continued: “They have missed many years of school although they are undoubtedly not stupid.

“They have problems accessing Universal Credit and a fear of the Jobcentre and the Universal Credit system and apparatus.

“Universal Credit is paid to one person in the household and this might well be an abusive partner. The Select Committee has persistently challenged the DWP [the Department for Work and Pensions] over this.”

Rise of ‘survival sex’
Women are exchanging sex for living essentials because of welfare reforms.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are working closely with the Select Committee to respond to their call for evidence.

“With Universal Credit no one has to wait five weeks to be paid, as your first payment is available as an advance on day one.

“We continue to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable and have made numerous improvements to the welfare system since 2016.”

Universal Credit, a social security payment in the UK, has long been the subject of criticism, with warnings people are being pushed into debt, rent arrears and a rise in food bank dependency due to delays in payments.

The parliamentary hearing follows the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty’s visit to the UK.

In a report on Wednesday, Professor Philip Alston said there were 14 million people living in poverty in Britain and “record levels of hunger and homelessness”.

He said the government had acted on some issues he raised beforehand, delaying the rollout of Universal Credit and improving it.

But he added: “For all the talk that austerity is over, massive disinvestment in the social safety net continues unabated.”

Following the financial crisis in 2008, the government enacted spending cuts in welfare as part of austerity programmes to balance the books.

(From Sky News)