CHARITIES have issued an urgent appeal to politicians to lobby for additional funding for sex workers due to "extreme concerns" for their safety.

They claim workers are being forced to continue to sell in-person sexual services or face poverty due to a lack of a financial safety net from the Scottish Government.

Sex worker-led charity Umbrella Lane and the campaign organisation Scot-Pep have written to MSPs to ask for support in pushing for further funding.

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The government, however, says it is alert to the issues facing those selling sex and highlighted a £60,000 funding pot set up in May last year.

However, Dr Anastacia Ryan, Founder of the Umbrella Lane project, said this is not reaching those most in need.

Dr Ryan said: "For 12 months, sex workers have been left to fall through the cracks of financial support by the Scottish Government, then watched from the margins with dismay and frustration as their lives were debated by politicians in a recent government consultation on further ways to reduce demand.

"It is deplorable that the MSPs behind the recent consultation, who claimed to care for the welfare of women selling sex, are not leading these calls for the Government to provide emergency financial assistance to allow sex workers to keep themselves, their families and the public safe by adhering to the new restrictions."

The charities are now awaiting a response from MSPs to their call for their backing in ensuring sex workers have financial support.

Umbrella Lane said it had set up a hardship fund at the start of the pandemic, thanks to public donations, which allowed it to support workers with hardship funds and food vouchers.

The charity says fundraising is not a sustainable long term substitute for government support and expressed frustration at a perceived unwillingness from politicians to act.

Umbrella Lane said it has been overwhelmed with requests for vital hardship services and for counselling services while a reduction in demand created by the pandemic pushes workers into precarious situations, such as accepting potentially violent clients that they would have refused when clients were readily available.

One sex worker said: "The government's hypocrisy in telling the nation to stay at home to save lives when they willingly and consistently turn a blind eye to the struggles of sex workers is nothing short of inhumane and deprives us of our basic rights to be afforded support during such catastrophic and unpredictable times.”

Scottish Government funding released last year was distributed by the Encompass Network, a collection of Scottish agencies working with people who are currently involved in or planning to exit prostitution.

Umbrella Lane and Scot-Pep are calling for funding to be distributed through or in partnership with peer-led services, such as theirs.

In their letter, Umbrella Lane and Scot-Pep write: "The £60,000 funding released by Scottish Government in June 2020 was a welcome acknowledgement of the hardship faced by sex workers in Scotland, but is not sufficient to allow many sex workers to adhere to the Covid-19 guidance.

"Since the initial grant was released, many women who sell sex have been unable to access this financial support due to administrative barriers and the fear of stigma or legal consequences for disclosing that they sell sex.

"Many sex workers were reluctant to give their information to the organisations distributing the funding."

A Scottish Government spokesman said sex workers are entitled to apply for social security, such as Universal Credit, and added that the Scottish Welfare Fund is available to those on low incomes.

He said: “We know that these challenging and unprecedented times are impacting those involved in prostitution and we continue to work with third sector partners to fully understand the impact of Covid-19 and encourage people to access mainstream and specialist support services available to them. 

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“We’ve allocated more than £60,000 crisis funding to the Encompass Network to enable Covid-focussed services for destitution support, trauma counselling, advocacy and to provide a bridge to national mainstream support.

"This fund remains open and is available to women who have been involved in selling or exchanging sex and are affected by the pandemic with no alternative options – this fund can be accessed privately and is not conditional on exiting prostitution.”