‘I, Daniel Blake’, a film directed by Ken Loach, is to be shown on BBC this week.  The award winning film portrays the realness of austerity for so many people and documents the bureaucracy and often complicated welfare system. It brings focus to the extreme poverty that people experience on a daily basis.

 Set in the North East, the story follows Daniel Blake, a joiner whose doctor orders him to stop working due following a heart attack, only for the DWP to deny him Employment Support Allowance benefit payments, as their staff deem him to be fit for work.

However, it’s the life of Katie, a young single mother whose benefits were sanctioned leaving her unable to provide for her children, which portrays the total desperation experienced by so many.

Katie, unable to receive any welfare as she was late for an appointment, is referred to a food bank, where she gathers necessities to feed her family. She needs deodorant and sanitary pads but it told there aren’t any, only toilet roll.

Not only is Katie without money she’s entitled to, but she’s also forced to menstruate with no adequate protection.

When she finally receives the money she’s owed she goes shopping. The money doesn’t stretch far and after purchasing all food she can afford she steals deodorant and sanitary pads, which she desperately needs. Although she gets caught by a security guard, a sympathetic store manager allows her to leave, seeing her desperation and helplessness.

The security guard however also recognises her vulnerability and suggests he can help her make money.

He interviews her in a pub and she’s awarded with the job.

She is next seen in a house, ready to have sex with men for money.

She has no choice. She could steal but it’s likely she’ll to go to prison if caught. Selling sex is her only option to feed her family, to keep her children alive, and to survive.

Sadly, ‘survival sex’ is not uncommon and people become extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation and other forms of modern day slavery when in extreme poverty.

Changing Lives have coined this term to describe the experiences for this group of men and women who sell sex out of necessity, to pay for rent or to repay debts, to feed families and to fund addictions.  It has been an increasing issue Universal Credit is rolled out and more people are forced into poverty. We support people involved in sex work, survival sex and those who are exposed to sexual exploitation.

We engage with both women and men who have varied experiences and different identities providing a ‘people’ approach avoiding labelling as it is often a barrier to engagement.  It is our experience that labels for our clients are often unnecessary and can be harmful.  For example, the people using our services are very clear that the terms ‘prostitute’ is often used against them in a derogatory context and they do not accept this language.  We have found that the problematic terminology can be a significant barrier to meaningful debate and narrative, and in turn this hinders the development of a strategic response both at local and national levels.

The existing debate around language is polarising and divisive.  In response, Changing Lives now describes our work using the phrase ‘sex work, survival sex and/or sexual exploitation’ which is long-winded but inclusive of the experiences of all those using our services. Our services cover many complex issues under this term and we have specialist projects in the following areas:  Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland, Durham, Darlington, York, Scarborough, Doncaster, Wolverhampton and Merseyside.

Debra Cowey, a Service Manager at Changing Lives, said: “We have dedicated specialist teams within Changing Lives supporting those with experience of ‘sex work, survival sex and/or sexual exploitation’. This remit is extremely important to meet the diversity and needs of the people we support. We acknowledge and respect that sex work is an independent choice for some, but we know that for others the element of choice is reduced in order to meet basic survival needs, whilst others experience violence, coercion and/or exploitation.

No matter what the experience is, we understand that ‘sex work, survival sex and/or sexual exploitation’ can be traumatising for individuals which is why we have tailored programmes of care for everyone we support. Our various trauma informed services aim to help people validate their experiences and reach their own individual goals.”

I, Daniel Blake is being screened on BBC 2 at 9.45pm on Saturday, 5th January 2019.

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