LONDON (Reuters) - Desperate British students, faced with rising costs on the back of government austerity measures, are turning to prostitution, gambling and other dangerous pursuits to fund their studies, support workers and student leaders said on Wednesday.
The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), a welfare body for sex workers, said it estimated the number of people approaching it for help had doubled in the last year as students struggled to make ends meet.
“(The government) know the cuts and the austerity programmes and the removing of grants, they know when they remove those resources they know it drives women further into poverty,” Sarah Walker from the ECP told Reuters.
“The way that women survive poverty is often through sex work. The government knows that and they don’t seem to care frankly.”
Young people have been the hardest hit by economic slowdown with youth unemployment now accounting for 1.03 million of the 2.64 unemployed, the highest level since 1992.
Last year, the government said it would scrap the Educational Maintenance Allowance, a grant to older teenage schoolchildren to help them stay in education, and allow university tuition fees to treble to up to 9,000 pounds a year from 2012.
With part-time jobs scarce and the cost of living being squeezed with rising prices, the National Union of Students (NUS) said young people were taking desperate and dangerous measures to pay for their education.
“In some cases that’s sex work, but we’re also hearing about clinical trials, gambling ... dangerous work where there’s very little, if any kind of employment rights,” said Estelle Hart, the NUS’s national women’s officer.
“You often hear it’s very easy to get a bar job. Well it’s not easy to get a bar job in this economic climate, it’s not easy to get any job.”
A study by researchers at a London university published last year found 16 percent of students were willing to engage in sex work to pay for their education and 11 percent would work for escort agencies.
Hart said a recent study by Leeds University in northern England revealed 25 percent of strippers and lap dancers were students. She said the government had a duty to investigate what effect its changes and cuts to education budgets were having.
The prostitutes collective said women of all ages were affected and they were working in brothels, as strippers, in lap dancing clubs, and on sex phone lines.
“It’s right across the sex industry. With sex work, you can work for maybe one evening a week and make enough money to cover all your expenses,” Walker said.
“It’s younger students who are just starting out in university and also women who are going back trying to get a degree or increase their skills.”
She said the scrapping of the EMA allowance had badly hit some mothers.
“When that money is cut, it’s the mother who often has to make up for it,” she said. “That is something that is driving women into sex work.”
The government said it was providing 180 million pounds a year for the most vulnerable teenagers and that no student had to pay up front for their studies.
“Our reforms will make the system even fairer, with more financial support and lower monthly repayments once you are in well-paid work,” said a spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Last year, demonstrations in London against the government plans to increase tuition fees descended into violence and rioting. In the worst trouble the car of heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and his wife was attacked by protesters.
Editing by Paul Casciato