A SEX worker charity has hit out as it has been excluded from a Scottish Government pledge of £60,000 to support women affected during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Glasgow-based Umbrella Lane and fellow charity Scotpep last month urgently called on the Scottish Government for support saying sex workers were facing an "unprecedented crisis".

Now the government has given £60,000 to the nine organisations involved in the Encompass Network of support agencies.

But this does not include Umbrella Lane, which says it has applied to join to Encompass Network but been turned down.

Encompass Network, however, said it has never refused membership to groups that meet its criteria and would welcome new groups wishing to join. 

Dr Anastacia Ryan, Founder and Director of Umbrella Lane, said: "Umbrella Lane has been urging the Scottish Government to hear the voices and needs of sex workers and respond with financial support alongside a commitment to supporting the necessary scaling of effort by sex worker-led projects through Covid-19.

"The news that Government funds are only supporting services that employ a violence against women approach in their work is saddening news for our team and beneficiaries, who have learnt we are ineligible to apply.

"Umbrella Lane has been working extremely hard to respond to the needs of sex workers during this time and has successfully supported more than 120 people with hardship grants and many more with well-being support.

"To be excluded from Government support to continue our efforts seems unjust and a political decision that overrides a genuine concern for sex workers."

A total of £61,771 has been awarded under the Scottish Government’s Immediate Priorities Fund and will be distributed by the Encompass Network to nine organisations across Scotland, including TARA in Glasgow.

Umbrella Lane, set up in 2015 and with a network of 500 sex workers across Scotland, ran a recent campaign to raise an emergency fund of £20,000 for hardest hit workers during lockdown.

Some workers are unable to register as being self-employed so are not eligible for government grants.

The charity said it is now providing a small monthly hardship grant to those in need with online peer support services.

But it says it is now at capacity and needs further support.

Molly Smith, a sex worker in Scotland, said: "It is absolutely horrendous that these funds have been restricted in this way.

"The organisations that will get these funds are organisations that campaign for criminalisation, which harms sex workers.

"That the Scottish Government sees organisations which campaign to harm us as appropriate vehicles for our ‘support’ during this crisis shows just how screwed up policy-making on sex work is in Scotland.

"Sex workers need emergency hardship funds like those run by Umbrella Lane."

A spokeswoman for Encompass Network said: "We welcome this Scottish Government funding to support women involved in the sex industry but also acknowledge that much more investment is needed. 

"We have consistently called for this prior to and during Covid 19.  

"We have worked hard with different organisations to remove barriers for women to access information, support and finances and see this additional funding as a vital contribution alongside other options such as hardship funds and victims funds.

"On local levels across Scotland any women involved in the sex industry who is facing hardship due to Covid 19, will be able to apply for financial help administered by Encompass member groups, with no conditions attached such as being made to exit the sex industry or agreeing on ideology and approaches."  

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Women engaging in prostitution have been identified as a non-shielding marginalised group.

"The funding to the Encompass Network will help to ensure they receive access to specialist help as we know that they may face additional risks and barriers to support during the COVID-19 crisis."