Scottish Government Funding Announcement Shines a Red Light on the Politics of Service Provision for Sex Workers in Scotland
Worker led charity Umbrella Lane provides vital support to adult industry workers across Scotland. Trust is vital as workers express fear of approaching mainstream services for support so being a worker led and run charity alleviates these fears. Umbrella Lane has a solid reputation amongst sex workers in Scotland as a trusted organisation.
Umbrella Lane has been at the forefront of supporting adult entertainment industry workers through this time, and has relied predominantly on the generosity of the public for contribution to a recent campaign to raise an emergency fund for hardest hit workers during lockdown. Established in 2015, Umbrella Lane has worked to reach a growing network of over 500 workers throughout Scotland, yet we have been denied the opportunity to even apply for any Government funding without compromising our values as a charity by signing up to the discriminatory ideology which equates all sex work as violence against women.
Selling sex is legal in Scotland so long as workers are indoors and alone. Many workers who choose to work with a friend for safety or work outdoors are criminalised and therefore have been unable to register as self employed meaning zero support is available to them. Due to COVID-19 these workers have now lost their sole means of income generation which has brought to the forefront just how outdated and dangerous these laws are. Workers without adequate employment protections are being forced to choose between working underground which exposes them to exploitation and being criminalised for putting food on their tables.
Umbrella Lane have been providing financial support and well-being services to sex workers in Scotland for some time and our volunteers worked tirelessly on developing an emergency fund which raised over £20,000 in one month. Umbrella Lane is now able to provide sex workers with small monthly hardship grants alongside access to online peer support services and individual support with mental health and well-being during this time. These funds are dwindling as the need is so great. We are now at capacity and desperately require extra support to increase staffing and provide vital support to affected workers.
Alongside SCOT-PEP, a sex worker-led advocacy network, Umbrella Lane publicly urged the Scottish Government to financially contribute to the Umbrella Lane hardship fund for sex workers and were ignored. Umbrella Lane were surprised to read the announcement today that £60k in funding is being made available to workers via the Encompass network.
Encompass Network is ‘a Scottish network of agencies working with people at risk of becoming involved in, who are currently involved in, or who have exited selling or exchanging sexual activity’. To become a member of Encompass, organisations must agree to use a ‘Violence Against Women’ approach in their services, viewing all sex workers as victims of gender-based violence and disregarding individual workers’ opinions on whether their work constitutes violence or not.
Conversely, Umbrella Lane is led by and continuously consults with sex workers, and chooses to support all workers with no caveats, no prying and no preconditions attached. Umbrella Lane believes it is discriminatory to exclude sex worker support projects who do not sign up to this narrow view and fully accept each worker’s own definition of their lives and work. Umbrella Lane believes this non-judgemental approach serves the needs of all sex workers while recognising that people sell or exchange sex due to their own choice, circumstance, and in a minority of situations, through coercion.
We know from our own lived experience that a one-size-fits-all approach simply does not work. Encompass have only agreed to list Umbrella Lane as a ‘service’ which effectively blocks access to any Scottish Government funding or support including any portion of the recent £60k being made available to them. As we have been willfully excluded for the time being, Umbrella Lane urges all support services eligible to receive this Scottish Government funding to at least work to ensure sex workers are consulted over what services they need in the short, medium and long term. Services must be designed according to the actual and not perceived needs of sex workers, and this can only happen effectively when sex workers are part of their design.
Sex workers across the UK are encouraged to continue to access the emergency funds provided by Umbrella Lane and SWARM, and to get in touch to access the other continuing services for well-being provided.
Dr Anastacia Ryan, Director of Umbrella Lane, said: "Today’s 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 over 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’.”
Dr Raven Bowen, CEO of National Ugly Mugs stated: “National Ugly Mugs (NUM) provides crime prevention, victim support and harm reduction services to thousands of adult industry workers across the UK. We collaborate with hundreds of practitioner groups, including sex worker-led organisation like Umbrella Lane, towards a mandate of ‘ending violence against sex workers.’ Umbrella Lane has been an essential service for sex workers in Scotland for several years, providing much needed case support and access to resources irrespective of politics. We were shocked to hear that this well-established sex worker-led charity is being denied membership to the Encompass Network, left out of access to government pandemic response funds, and excluded from contributing to initiatives aimed to end violence against women in Scotland.
Umbrella Lane’s core principles are inclusion, self-determination and the promotion of health and human rights. This is how they have garnered the respect of diverse populations of sex workers, including some of the most marginalised individuals such as migrant workers. Their stance to respect women’s (and other genders’) rights to self-definition runs counter to Scottish government policy that thrusts a victimhood narrative upon women that does not reflect all lived experiences across the wide spectrum of roles in online and on- and off-street sex industries.
We urge the Scottish government to transcend politics in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, reconsider how your resources are spent and invest in supporting Umbrella Lane and their massive network of hundreds of active sex workers who need help and resources to stay alive and healthy right now!”
Molly Smith, a sex worker in Scotland, said: “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, not for these harmful organisations to just add another salaried staff member to the rota. We need a moratorium on raids and arrests, ultimately we need full decriminalisation alongside a generous social safety net for all. To give funds to these harmful organisations flies in the face of sex worker safety, health, and access to justice”