A Greater Manchester charity is reporting a worrying increase in the number of women accessing its services in severe financial hardship, hunger and hygiene poverty.
The CEO of MASH, a charity which supports women involved in sex work and those experiencing challenges including homelessness, mental ill health and violence, is calling on its Greater Manchester support networks for help.
Annie Emery said that the combined effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, cuts to lifeline services, the dire shortage of housing and the cost of living crisis are pushing more women in Greater Manchester to the brink of survival.
Last year, the charity experienced one of its busiest ever years. It provided support to 609 women in Greater Manchester, a 16 per cent increase on the previous year. More than half of these women were new to MASH, with many having turned to sex working for the first time or returned to it after a significant time away.
In addition to its support services which include a drop-in centre, support workers, a nurse clinic and an outreach van providing street-based support late at night, MASH’s team set up an emergency hardship fund during the first lockdown. Originally a temporary measure, the charity says it has had to continue this due to rising demand.
Women can apply to the fund to cover costs of emergency items which can include anything from travel passes to get to medical appointments and collect prescriptions, pyjamas and slippers for an extended hospital stay and mobile phone credit for safety and so they can keep in touch with support workers.
231 women in Greater Manchester accessed hardship support from MASH last year which includes its emergency fund. MASH says demand from women in extreme financial hardship is increasing.
One woman who applied to the fund to get passport photos taken said; “I’ve got bad asthma and DVT and I can’t walk far. I qualify for a concessionary bus pass but I need a photo for the application. I don’t have any money to get these done. Getting this sorted will be a game changer because I won’t have to rely on my MASH worker to get me to appointments.”
Annie Emery, CEO at MASH said; “It is really concerning to see how the compounding effects of the pandemic, the cost of living crisis and cuts to help and support are pushing so many women to the brink of survival.
“Living in a constant state of high alert with no safety net or stable place to live is wreaking havoc on people’s mental and physical health. There is huge pressure on expert support services and housing which is leaving lots of women in limbo. Some are waiting weeks and months for backdated benefits payments with no money to survive on in the meantime.
“We are seeing a rise in the number of women turning to sex work and many women returning to sex work after a number of years.”
MASH is a local charity and can continue its work thanks to people’s generosity. It has launched an urgent fundraising appeal to help women in Greater Manchester who are in crisis.
MASH is taking part in The Big Give Women and Girls appeal to raise funds to support women in hardship. For 7 days from 11th – 18th October, donations made via this specific link will be match funded and doubled. One donation will therefore have twice the impact and MASH can stretch the funds to go twice as far for women.
“If you are in a position to, please donate to MASH during our appeal so we can continue to be here for women who are really struggling right now,” said Annie Emery.
MASH is also hoping to recruit more volunteers and is appealing for donations of food and ingredients to ensure it can continue to provide nutritious hot meals in its drop-in centre for women throughout the week.
Annie added; “MASH has always provided a range of emotional and practical support, including supporting women who decide they want to work on their recovery and follow their aspirations. But at the moment we are often having to focus on meeting people’s most basic needs for food, clothing, hygiene essentials and medication.
“If there are organisations in Greater Manchester which can help with donating food or volunteering regular hours for cooking and food prep, we would love to hear from you. This support will make a massive difference to women.”