Prostitution: Coronavirus

Home Office written question – answered on 2 July 2020.

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Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what steps she is taking to protect sex workers during the covid-19 outbreak; what recent assessment she has made of the potential merits of decriminalising sex work and introducing a moratorium on raids, arrests and prosecutions during that outbreak; and what discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on (a) financial, (b) welfare, (c) housing and (d) healthcare support for sex workers.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Throughout the Covid-19 outbreak, the Government’s priority is to protect those selling sex from harm and exploitation and target those who exploit vulnerable people involved in sex work and prostitution. We continue to work closely with the police and Crown Prosecution Service to ensure current legislation achieves these aims.

We have no plans to introduce a moratorium. Local areas and police forces are best placed to identify and respond to issues related to sex work. They are supported in this by National Police Chiefs Council guidance which rightly prioritises the safety of sex workers over enforcement action.

Though the Government is aware of different legislative approaches to sex work and prostitution, we have not seen unequivocal evidence that decriminalisation is the best way to reduce harm and exploitation.

We understand that those who are vulnerable and involved in selling sex can face a number of challenges that affect their ability to access services particularly during the Covid-19 outbreak. The Government has published guidance on accessing services such as those for health, sexual violence, modern slavery and domestic abuse. Existing specialist support services continue to be available to those seeking help. We are also providing £76m to charities and organisations throughout the country to support victims of modern slavery, sexual violence and domestic abuse. Of this, the Ministry of Justice is providing £10m to support sexual violence services through Covid 19 pressures. A further £3m per annum until 2022 will also be invested in the recruitment of more Independent Sexual Violence Advisors across the country.

We have also taken swift action to ensure we continue to deliver essential services and support for victims of modern slavery enabled sexual exploitation during the Covid-19 pandemic. We will provide £1.73 million of funding for charities, announced by the Chancellor last month, to provide emergency support to victims of modern slavery. We also announced on 6 April 2020 that all individuals in accommodation support provided by the Victim Care Contract will not be required to move on for the next three months.

In terms of financial and welfare support, the Government is providing support to those who are self-employed and have lost income due to Covid-19. Those affected may be eligible to claim a grant though the Covid-19 Self-employment Income Support Scheme. The Government is committed to providing a safety net for the most vulnerable in society and recognises that access to regular financial support is vital. We have made changes to ensure people who need financial help have access to the benefit system. We have temporarily relaxed the application of the Minimum Income Floor for all self-employed Universal Credit claimants affected by the impact of Covid-19, for the duration of the outbreak.

The Government has put in place measures to support those experiencing homelessness during Covid-19. The Secretary of State for Housing announced a total of £3.2 billion of additional funding for Local Government to help them respond to Covid-19 pressures across services they deliver. This includes increasing support for services such as housing to help the most vulnerable.

Healthcare services remain open including general practice, drug and alcohol, and sexual health services. Whilst they have reduced face to face appointments, some services are able to see urgent, priority or vulnerable clients (including sex workers) seeking support where necessary.

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