A Manchester charity which provides non-judgemental support to women who are sex working says the number of women approaching the service for the first time has increased significantly since the start of 2022, with the cost of living crisis being a key factor.
MASH is a small charity which stands with women involved in sex work and provides expert support around safety, physical and mental health, housing, improved choices and more.
The charity’s staff team has reported a significant increase in women turning to sex work for the first time or returning after several years away. Many are stating the spike in costs of energy bills, food and housing combined with ongoing issues with Universal Credit payments as contributing factors.
MASH supported 111 new service users between December 2021 and April 2022, the highest number of new women the charity has seen in one quarter in four years. The charity says many of these women are likely returning to sex work after several years or have recently started working.
MASH’s outreach van, a specially adapted camper van, is taken out onto the ‘beat’ areas of the city four nights per week. Women can access condoms, food and drink and speak to friendly and non-judgemental case workers and volunteers to get support with anything that is going on in their lives.
MASH also runs a drop-in centre, its own specialist sexual health clinic, offers counselling and supports women with everything from finding a home to reporting violent crimes and navigating the criminal justice system. Its colleagues and volunteers are all trained to work in a trauma-informed and gender-informed approach which is key to its impactful work.
The charity says that the demand for its services is only expected to increase as more people are pushed below the poverty line due to the cost of living crisis. This is on top of existing challenges with women waiting for Universal Credit payments, struggling to get through the online process and not receiving the correct amounts. The charity says the payments are not enough to cover the cost of living for the people it supports. Inflation is also at the highest rate for 30 years and April saw a record increase in household energy bills.
One woman in Manchester recently commented; “Now, it is every day without failure. I am worn out. I am working every day to survive.”
Annie Emery, CEO at MASH, said; “Over the past two years we have seen how the Covid-19 pandemic and changes to the welfare system have exacerbated many women’s already precarious life situations. When Covid-19 hit, we saw a big increase in women who lost income overnight, requiring emergency food parcels, who were asked to leave accommodation or who had no way of isolating.
“Women, unpaid-carers, workers on zero-hours’ contracts etc. were already struggling and these living cost hikes are pushing more into complete crisis and survival mode.
“‘MASH has been around for 30 years and we are concerned that we’re now starting to engage with women who moved on from sex work years ago. It is clear that their financial struggles are leaving women with extremely limited and insecure options.
“There are also more women coming to us for the first time who have turned to sex work as their last option to keep a roof over their heads. What is consistent is the strength, resilience and perseverance of the women we support who are simply trying to live day to day.
“Looking at what’s to come we are predicting demand for our services will only increase so we are incredibly grateful to individuals who donate to MASH and ensure we can continue to provide this vital lifeline. As a small charity with limited resources, the predicted increase in need is a concern.”
One woman who accesses MASH’s drop-in centre said; “I know I have somewhere to turn to thanks to MASH. At the MASH drop-in centre, I was able to share what was happening and my worries without fearing judgement. I feel more confident since speaking to MASH and I’m in a better place with my finances.”
MASH is a small charity and relies partly on people’s generosity to ensure its vital services can continue. It has launched its emergency shopping list appeal to support individuals being impacted by the cost of living crisis.
Visit https://patchworkit.com/43974/MASH to donate essentials for women in Manchester who are in crisis.