CHARITIES have said sex workers are facing "catastrophe" if the government does not step in to support them.

Umbrella Lane and Scotpep, sex worker charities based in Glasgow and Edinburgh, are urgently calling on the Scottish Government to help sex workers amid the covid-19 crisis. 

Spokeswomen for both charities said that the already precarious group of workers is facing an "unprecedented crisis" as they are being left without essential services, are unable to access financial safety nets, and are facing destitution.

Some are continuing to work, despite risks to their health, due to facing poverty.

The charities said raids and arrests targeting sex workers continue, with people criminalised for working on the street or for sharing a flat with a friend for safety. 

Kathryn, a spokeswoman for Umbrella Lane, said: “Sex workers are facing an unprecedented crisis. 

"Covid-19 has meant intense poverty for an already-precarious group. 

"Sex workers are desperate to protect their health and everybody’s health by staying at home, but to do that they need money – they need to be safe from poverty, hunger and eviction. 

"We are calling on the Scottish Government to intervene to help avert catastrophe."

Umbrella Lane and Scotpep are calling for immediate action from the Scottish Government on the following issues:

•The Scottish Government make a substantial grant to sex worker emergency hardship funds, such as the one being run by Umbrella Lane, so that money can be disbursed to sex workers as soon as possible.

•The Scottish Government ensures access to essential sexual and reproductive health services. Umbrella Lane and Scotpep are asking that a free, at-home testing and contraception service be rolled out in Scotland along the lines of that in place in England and Wales through SH:24.

•The Scottish Government set up a fast-track access route to Universal Credit for sex workers while ensuring sex workers’ anonymity within the system – for instance, allowing support organisations to flag certain applications as needing priority because they come from a person within a vulnerable group, which can include involvement in sex work.

•The Scottish Government implement an immediate moratorium on raids and arrests, including an end to the criminalisation of soliciting and brothel-keeping – which is a law most often used against sex workers working together for safety. 

Kat, a spokeswoman for Scotpep, said: “It is horrific beyond belief that even amidst this crisis, sex workers are still facing criminalisation. 

"We are calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that no sex worker will be arrested during this crisis – sex workers deserve safety and rights, not arrest.” 

Last month we told how lap dancers in Glasgow said their income has taken a "devastating" hit.

GMB Union representative Megara Furie called on the government to step in with greater support for self-employed workers, saying the stigma attached to lap dancing means workers find changing jobs difficult.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Everyone should be staying at home, avoiding social contact and avoiding travel except for reasons of essential work, care and exercise – meaning non-essential business must cease and those not following these rules are putting themselves, their community and the NHS at unnecessary risk and facing fines or prosecution.

"We have introduced measures which apply both to those driving the demand and those engaged in prostitution, and we support a range of services which can help reduce the harms caused by prostitution - including those that have recently arisen as a result of the pandemic.

“We are aware that there are many women in vulnerable personal and economic circumstances, including sex workers and would encourage anyone who is experiencing hardship to engage with the support services available.

"We are working with health boards to ensure sexual health services continue to operate and that delays to patient treatment are minimised."