Hookers Against Hardship
Sex workers have harnessed the power of community organising and mutual aid for decades. We come together during times of hardship or crisis, most recently during the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns. Like other precarious workers, the pandemic left many workers economically destitute. Having received no financial support from the government, sex workers do what they have always done in times of hardship: we turned to each other for support. Sex worker-led organisations such as Umbrella Lane and SWARM set up financial hardship funds for sex workers during the pandemic, supporting the community in ways in which the government had failed to do.
In the wake of the pandemic, we are facing another crisis: the cost of living. Many sex workers are experiencing a loss of income due to appointment cancellations, decreased demand for services, and workplace closures. Sex workers cannot access labour protections such as paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, or maternity pay: there is no safety net for sex workers when we are unable to work. More and more people will be resorting to sex work because of the cost of living and the increasingly precarious labour market. We deserve to be safe. We deserve respect. And, most importantly, we deserve the same rights as everyone else.
We’re lobbying the government to demand that they do more to support sex workers. There are two key things the public can do to help: donate to sex worker-led organisations which support sex workers in crisis, and email your MP to ask them to support the campaign and our demands.
Sex workers’ voices
We’ve collected a number of case studies from sex workers about their experiences during the cost of living crisis. People are having to make impossible choices between looking after their children, protecting their health or keeping themselves safe, and doing sex work in order to support themselves.
“I wanted to take time away after being assaulted at my last booking but I don’t feel able to. It’s been quieter, and rising bills are constantly in the back of my mind, so I don’t feel like I can say no to any work that comes my way.” Scarlett, in-person sex worker
“I’m going to have to go back to work soon, eight weeks after giving birth to my baby. I’d like to keep not working for longer, but I can’t manage – the maternity allowance you get from the government isn’t enough to cover my bills right now.” Angelica, stripper and online sex worker
“I’ve noticed that in the strip club that I work in, people are starting to ask for more for less. So they want me to do more and they want to pay less for it. And these customers know they have the power, they know exactly what they can get from us and they know that we’re the most desperate.” Joanna, stripper
“When I started OnlyFans I never thought I’d move back to escorting. I used to get messages from guys asking to meet me, I’d just say no or ignore them. I started last year and had built a following on Twitter, but now they’ve suspended my account and I’m starting from scratch. I’ve started meeting clients again: I don’t feel I have a choice. I even have some clients who want me to take drugs with them. I hate it.” Damian, online worker and escort
The government must do more to support people in poverty, prevent people from having to go into sex work in the first place, and improve safety for those that are currently working. In order to achieve this, we’re making the following policy asks:
1. An end to benefit sanctions
Many women have told us that they went into sex work because their benefits were sanctioned, and they desperately needed to earn money to cover the loss of income. It’s unacceptable for government policy to be driving women into sex work – especially during a cost of living crisis.
2. Access to benefits for all, at a living wage
Thousands of people currently face destitution because they either have no, or limited, access to public funds – or because benefits are simply not enough for them to live on, particularly if they are supporting a family. The government must raise the level of benefits to a living wage, and ensure that everyone experiencing poverty in the UK has access to benefits.
3. A moratorium on evictions
No one should face the threat of homelessness because of the cost of living crisis. Sex workers are particularly vulnerable as renters because their landlords can evict them if they believe that they’re doing sex work from their flat. An evictions ban was put in place for a period of time early on in the pandemic, and saved thousands of people from losing their homes.. The Scottish Government has recently introduced a limited ban on evictions until March 2023, which does not protect sex workers. The UK government should put in place another temporary moratorium on evictions while the inflation rate remains so high.
4. Rent controls for the whole of the UK
Rent makes up the biggest proportion of many people’s spending, and rents have been increasing uncontrollably around the country over many years. The Scottish government has recently acted to protect renters by introducing an immediate rent freeze, and a number of organisations continue to campaign for longer-term rent controls. The UK government should introduce rent controls in order to protect people from being unable to afford the basics they need to live, due to having to spend increasing amounts of money on rent.
5. Amnesty from arrest and fines for sex workers
The risk of arrest acts as a major deterrent for sex workers to report crimes against them. An amnesty from arrest would mean that sex workers could report experiences of rape and other violence to the police without having to be afraid of being arrested themselves for prostitution offences. Sex workers should also never be criminalised and fined simply for doing sex work as criminal records bar access to other jobs and fines force people to continue doing sex work in order to pay the fine. The English Collective of Prostitutes have been campaigning around this since 2020: you can read more here.
Finally, sex workers also need the full decriminalisation of sex work, in order for them to access support and safety while earning the money they need in order to survive. Under the soliciting and brothel-keeping laws, hundreds of sex workers a year are prosecuted or threatened with prosecution just for working to support themselves. Women of colour, migrant and trans women are particularly penalised. It is illegal for two women to work together from the same flat for safety – so people work alone, putting them at greater risk of violence from clients; or they work together anyway, and risk dangerous clients threatening to call the police on them.
“I became a sex worker because it was the only job that suited my life. I have a disabled child and it’s difficult with all the hospital appointments and looking after her. I needed to work, and earn a set amount of money when a bill comes in and come home. … I’ve been disqualified from jobs purely on the grounds that I’ve been charged with prostitution. Once you’ve got that record, it’s there for life. All they’re doing now, by keeping it criminalised, is keeping women out on the streets, you are taking from them the choice to leave.” Rachel, in-person sex worker
Hookers Against Hardship campaign
Please share information about the campaign on social media to help more people understand the situation for sex workers.
Contact us at HAHcampaign@gmail.com.