European & International News

UK Study - l/5 of Homeless Women Tried Prostitution for Survival

Published by Jon Land for on 23 December 2010

Nearly one in five homeless women has resorted to prostitution to escape a night on the streets, a study revealed today.

The survey commissioned by homeless charity Crisis found individuals were resorting to crime and unwanted sexual relationships to avoid sleeping rough.

The Hidden Homelessness report undertaken by Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research found 19% of women and 3% of men said they had engaged in sex work as a way to get off the streets.

It revealed more than one in four (28%) of women and 14% of men had spent one or more nights with an unwanted sexual partner to accommodate themselves.

The study of 437 single homeless people across the UK, found 28% had committed minor crime such as shop-lifting or anti-social behaviour in the hope of being taken into custody.

Approximately 20% said they had avoided bail or committed an imprisonable offence as a means to resolve their housing problems, while 18% admitted spending time in accident and emergency departments for the same reason.

Crisis chief executive Leslie Morphy said: "One of the reasons why the research is so damning is that it focuses on those people who don’t have any right to social housing or supportive housing.

She added: "There are three things that are particularly shocking. The percentage of people who said they had ended up in an unwanted sexual relationship simply because they needed a roof over their head.

"Even more shocking is the 19% of women who said they had resorted to prostitution to get a roof over their head.

"That was followed by people who had made the decision to commit petty crimes in order to end up in custody or who use accident and emergency facilities to avoid ending up rough sleeping.

"Sleeping on the streets is in itself extremely dangerous and cold. People are clearly doing the things we’d talked to people about and anecdotally knew they did."
The study found financial hardship was leading to homelessness, with 13% evicted for rent arrears or being unable to afford their rent and 9% losing accommodation tied to employment.

Ms Morphy warned homelessness was likely to worsen as the full effects of the economic downturn are felt.

She said: "Unfortunately I don’t think we’ve reached the crisis point in 2010, I think it’s going to get worse, not better.

"Of course the weather is ghastly and that clearly makes it much more dangerous for people when the conditions are this bad.

"What we haven’t seen yet are the results of some of the cuts coming forward.

"In particular, we haven’t seen the results of the housing benefit cuts that have been announced. We also haven’t really seen the results of the cuts in local authority budgets."

She added: "We are particularly worried about people who are normally single homeless people, where the local authority doesn’t have any statutory duty to house them. They are regarded as not being in priority need so they pull through all of the safety nets."

Ms Morphy urged the Government to re-think its plans to avoid hitting vulnerable people.

She said: "There are two things we want them to do. We want them not to bring in all these housing benefit measures, particularly the one about the shared room rate.

"We want them not to take forward a measure which means people who are on job seekers allowance have their housing benefit reduced by 10% when they’ve been on it a year and we really would urge local authorities not to cut homeless services over the next few years because that is going to be the only lifeline for people.

"We’d urge government to make sure that safety net is tightened so that single people don’t have to resort to this sort of desperation."

Ms Morphy said this year’s freezing winter was also hitting homeless people particularly hard.

She said: "We are worried about the fatal impact because it’s true. Some people will die and in fact there was a death from hypothermia in London last week. This isn’t just a scare story, this will happen."

Read the Crisis Press Release here:

Read the EWL’s Position Paper on ending violence against women - including prostitution and other forms of sexual violence - here.

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EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

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