Sex work and UK jobcentres

Jobcentres in the UK currently carry adverts from companies seeking people to work in the sex trade, including posts as strippers, topless barmaids, and sexy webcam performers. Staff at jobcentres have to ensure that the unemployed people receiving benefits are actively seeking work, and applying to appropriate jobs. People can be told to look at the job adverts to see if there is something suitable for which they could apply before being allowed to sign on. The Minister for Employment, Chris Grayling, has stated that it is wrong for jobcentres to be displaying adverts of this nature. “It’s absolutely wrong that the government advertises jobs that could support the exploitation of people. We’ve taken immediate action today to stop certain adult entertainment vacancies from being advertised through Jobcentre Plus. We shouldn’t put vulnerable people in an environment where they’re exposed to these types of jobs and could feel under pressure to work in the sex industry.” A temporary ban on such adverts has been put in place whilst ministers prepare more permanent legislation. I’m not entirely sure what to think about this. My gut reaction is that this is a good thing. But my more considered response is that the issue seems complicated. One might think that there are plenty of exploitative jobs around – minimum wage, temporary contracts with no security, no benefits such as a pension. Why should sex work be considered more exploitative than these forms of work? Moreover, the best way to improve conditions for sex workers is to make the work more, not less, legitimate. But what do you think? You can read more from Reuters here.

27 thoughts on “Sex work and UK jobcentres

  1. You can bet your life that people taking such jobs are subsequently approached to appear in pornography, become prostitutes etc.. And a lot of people are perhaps persuaded, and/or perhaps tempted by the money, and/or do not fully appreciate what they are getting themselves into and what the impact on them will be. Some young women might think (and be encouraged to think) it is an easy buck and a bit of a thrill – but making pornography and being a prostitute can do terrific damage to a person’s self-respect, relations to others and so on.

    It is great that the government has chosen to ban such adverts from job centres.

  2. It is clearly a Government policy that female UK citizens over the age of 18 cannot be entrusted to have the judgement to act as adults, and are incapable of exercising choice. Therefore, this choice should be denied them.

    And indeed, probably all UK citizens are incapable of exercising choice. If they were capable, the Conservative and Labour parties would not be in the Palace of Westminster, but at the bottom of the river running alongside it.

  3. Come to think of it, this is quite interesting. The JobCentres have been advertising these vacancies due to the Ann Summers case, in which it was ruled illegal to proscribe these vacancies. So the Government has decided to temporarily act illegally. What a great and wonderful example to us all. Hardly an act to follow the Iraq War, though….

  4. I wonder if they are distinguishing between Ann Summers type jobs and jobs of the sort they’ve temporarily banned? I presume – although I don’t know, so if anyone does, please tell me – that the Ann Summers jobs are retail positions, whilst the job adverts they’ve banned are those in the ‘adult entertainment’ business.

    I guess the problem with adverts for these sort of jobs being displayed in jobcentres is that jobcentres aren’t a neutral place. I’ve seen lots of sex work adverts ranging from waitressing at Hooters to working as an escort and appearing in porn films in our local newspaper. I’m not at all bothered about that – people can make their own minds up whether or not they want to apply and work in those roles. The pernicious thing about the jobcentre is that they are supposed to apply pressure to the unemployed to get them into work and off the dole. Depending who you see and how long you’ve been signing on, that can involve being forced to apply for a certain numbers of jobs in the centre before being allowed to sign on and continue to receive benefits. It thus seems more worrying for there to be sex trade adverts in the jobcentre.

  5. The concern, for me, would be the potentially coercive situation at the jobcentre as Monkey describes.

    It wouldn’t be the potential for women to be approached to work in pornography or as prostitutes; first, that can happen when they’re working as waitstaff in restaurants or pretty much anywhere there’s public contact, and second, I think of women as autonomous adults just like men are and believe they can make their own decisions about things like that.

  6. I remember reading a very clear policy that nobody was to be in any way forced or pressurised into applying for ‘sex industry’ jobs. The effect of the new course of action – I won’t bless it with the term ‘policy’ – is to further marginalise and stigmatise those in the sex industry, to constrain the free choice of those who are not, and to limit the degree to which the Department of Work and Pensions bothers doing its job.

    If society accepts that there are lapdancing and pole-dancing clubs etc., as it must because there are God-knows how many regulations concerning them, then it must accept that they provide employment. Surely this is one of their advantages in the economy.

    For some reason the bourgeoise and chattering classes seem extraordinarily preoccupied as to whether exploitative conditions occur in these situations. They do, of course, as exploitative conditions occur in all situations. They will happily chatter away through a meal about the exploitation of dancers or sex workers, whilst munching away on food grown, harvested, processed and retailed by workers far, far more exploited than the majority of those in the UK sex industry, but this infinitely more extensive group will seldom merit a syllable.

    The largest group of persons found trafficked into the UK were not found in brothels servicing clients, but in a Lincolnshire field picking leeks. And don’t forget the cockle pickers of Morecombe Bay.

    Somehow, when sex enters the door, common sense flies out of the window. The default assumed condition of all other workers is not that they are exploited, why sex workers?

  7. I didn’t know there were guidelines stating that no-one was to be forced or pressurised into applying for ‘sex industry’ jobs at job centres. That does make the current move seem rather odd.

  8. There was indeed. Somewhere on my hard drive I’ve got the doc or pdf including the ‘consultation’, but it would take me God knows how long to find.

    Rather more sinister is the question of whether this sets the tone for what is to come from the coalition in terms of Harmanite crackdowns on the sex industry, which invariably create more victims than they ever rescue.

    Already its got the newspapers wringing their hands over their ads:

  9. Working as a prostitute is not quite the same as picking leeks.
    And whilst there can be financial exploitation of both prostitutes and leek-pickers, prostitutes are subject to various other types of exploitation.
    Furthermore, what constitutes autonomy, and the importance of autonomy, are contentious issues. However it is largely agreed that for a decision to count as an autonomous decision that decision must be pretty well informed as to the nature of the path which the agent is going down. I fear that most of those who start down the path of prostitution or participating in pornography, do not understand the effects on them which going down that path will have.

  10. tina – That a decision must be well infomed to be autonomous doesn’t follow at all. All manner of ill-informed decisions are taken autonomously.

    One might add that if we knew precisely the effect on us of going down every conceivable path, life would become extremely tedious.

    It would no doubt be extremely desirable for a person to have carefully considered the situation before embarking on sex work, from health and safety and from other perspectives, and to be properly informed and to have contingencies in place should things go awry. However, this preparation is hardly encouraged by the present legal set-up.

  11. Tina’s obviously never picked any type of crop 8 hours a day 5 days a week. Think dehydration, sunburn, calluses, scarred hands and backaches. Unless the sex worker does mild to moderate sub work, I’d say crop pickers are by far the more exploited workers.

    They’re both crappy jobs that the workers would not do if something better were available. At least sex work pays a decent wage.

  12. Thanks, Stephen. That looks a lot like the scam the New Jersey gvt. pulled in Reagan’s day. Factories laid off thousands of workers and then hired them back on a workfare initiative at half their former pay.

    Check out how a “put them back to work” initiative forced by the Harris Conservatives ended here: They sent an unqualified man into the bush with A FREAKING CHAINSAW to clear trees. He cut off his hands!! Welfare workers don’t force any type of work on clients here anymore. They do a 20 place job search every month, and if they get hired they get hired. If they don’t, they don’t. If they want to be really pissy about kicking somebody off welfare, they just call the child protection agencies. No kids, no welfare, no entitlement to housing. Once a woman (or single dad) loses everything, s/he can’t get her/his kids back.

    Do child protection agencies in the UK work with the police to harass and persecute sex workers too?

  13. Stephen, are you a philosopher? As I say autonomy is a contentious notion but in philosophy it is usually thought that the agent has to be reasonably

    The Guardian article is nonsense. It claims that Cameron has a certain position (and extreme libertarian position) which he does not hold, and then says banning the job ads is in conflict with that position – so what, it is not Cameron’s position.

    Xena, I have not worked in fields but I have done cleaning and bar work. And yes, it was tiring but I chose it in preference to sex work. You must have a very shallow understanding of sex if you think chapped hands and backache are the worst a worker has to worry about.

  14. Whoops, missed off the end of the first paragraph. It should read:

    Stephen, are you a philosopher? As I say autonomy is a contentious notion but in philosophy it is usually thought that the agent has to be reasonably well informed for her decision to count as an autonomous decision. Kant of course thought the autonomous agent is one who is acting on the categorical imperative – that is even more demanding…

  15. tina – It seems to me like there’s a rather large gap between being `pretty well informed’ (#9) and being `reasonably well informed ‘ (#15) about the consequences of one’s actions — the latter seems like a much higher bar to pass, and indeed I’d wonder how many of our decisions are actually pretty well informed. Further, I don’t see what either has to do with autonomy in any commonly-used sense — being unconstrained, possibly doing otherwise, or deciding in accordance with the categorical imperative (whatever particular version). The test of humanity, for example*, only requires me to know whether or not I’m using the various persons involved as means. That need not have anything to do with the consequences of my actions, whence the Secret Police case. You say that your claim is `largely agreed’ (#9) and `usually thought’ among philosophers (#15) but what’s your basis for claiming such a consensus? Did I miss that question on the PhilPapers poll?

    Next, you may fear that `most of those who start down the path of prostitution or participating in pornography, do not understand the effects on them which going down that path will have’, but is your fear reasonable? That is, do you have good reasons to believe that many women going into sex work don’t know what they’re getting into? Sex worker activists often argue otherwise — that many (though certainly not all) sex workers know and understand the risks of becoming sex workers.

    * Presumably, since I don’t think you ever actually explained what you had in mind by that back in the thread last week.

  16. Xena – social services frequently take children from the households of street sex workers (especially) into ‘care’, through the courts.

    I would have thought a major issue here concerning feminists is the gender-based attitudes of Government. Why is an adult woman expected to be incapable of making a sensible decision on the pros and antis of these jobs, “sexual exploitation” and the potentials thereof notwithstanding, whereas a 15-year-old male is apparently perfectly capable of joining the navy and being blown to smithereens fighting for his country, and nobody bats an eyelid at that job being advertised in a UK JobCentre.

    However, it will be a great relief to his parents to know that, assuming everyone’s stuck to the rules, he will never have smoked, bought a pint of alcohol, and ABOVE ALL, thank Christ, sexually exploited anyone by so much as buying a mucky magazine.

  17. Xena beat me to it – I just don’t agree with the assumption that sex work is more exploitative than other kinds of work. (Of course, some sex work is very exploitative. But I don’t think sex work is exploitative simply in virtue of being sex work, which is an assumption that some people make.) Agricultural workers in some places have a really hard time. There have been instances of such workers basically treated as slaves, locked up, subjected to beatings and so forth. It’s also a job that migrant workers often end up doing, and they typically have few rights and are thus ripe for exploitation. There’s info on some of these unholy goings-on here. There are similar concerns with the treatment of migrant workers in the UK too, although to my knowledge, there hasn’t been anything quite as bad as what has been reported as going on in the US, but if anyone knows better, then please set me right. Nevertheless, migrant workers are housed in crap living conditions, paid less than minimum wage, subject to various errors in payment, work in poor conditions, and generally treated pretty poorly. There’s some info on the TUC site. This isn’t just a matter of having a bit of backache and a few blisters. This is serious exploitation. Working in Hooters – which I believe counts as working in the adult entertainment industry – is a total breeze compared to this.

    Nice point about the navy, Stephen P. (Although, of course, someone could think that neither navy jobs nor adult entertainment jobs should be advertised in the Jobcentre.)

  18. Dan Hicks, I take it Tina is right that there is a relation between autonomy and information. There’s a line of thought which goes ‘an appropriate amount of information is required for consent, and informed consent is required for the proper exercise of autonomy’. This isn’t my area, but I gather it’s a line of thought that crops up a lot in discussions of advance directives. Having said that, there’s room for debate over what counts as enough information for consent and so autonomy. As you and SP both imply, if the bar is set high enough to rule out choices to work in the adult entertainment industry, then it rules out an awful lot of other actions that we intuitively count as autonomous.

  19. Hi Dan

    A couple of quick remarks as I don’t have much time – will come back to this if you like.

    You say ‘The test of humanity, for example*, only requires me to know whether or not I’m using the various persons involved as means.’

    But Kant also says that one should not treat a person as an object. What it is to treat a person as an object is subject to some debate. This is helpful

    Kant also says
    ‘a human being is an end for himself as well as for others, and it is not enough that he is not authorised to use either himself or others merely as means (since he could then still be indifferent to them).’ Metaphysics of Morals Ak 6:395.

    In other words, to treat a person as an end requires one actively treat them in certain ways. Not simply to not treat them in certain ways. This is where imperfect duty comes in.

    Imperfect duty is a positive duty – promote others’ happiness and your own perfection.

    Perfect duty is negative duty – it tells you what not to do – do not treat as a mere means or object, do not undermine autonomy etc.

    Perfect duty is clear and straightforward (according to Kant) and you can and should always do what it says to do.

    In contrast in the performance of imperfect duty, you have latitude. In other words, scope to decide whose happiness to promote and so on. On imperfect duty these are really worth reading:
    Peter Atterton, ‘A Duty to Be Charitable? A Rigoristic Reading of Kant’ in Kant Studien. See also Marcia Baron Kantian Ethics p.41ff

    Well that is roughly Kant’s view. And then we can try and improve upon it. But no time for that right now…. Nor for information and autonomy. Another day…

    Kind regards


  20. And what do chapped hands and backaches have to do with my understanding of sex and/or sex work? I was talking about field work under some of the fairest possible conditions, where the worker gets paid minimum wage.

    You’re new to the site, though. Look around a bit. I’ve learned a few things here this year.

  21. “…this is what the canonical feminists really can’t accept – if she doesn’t espouse their brand of ‘feminism’, in the raunch culture, capitalist free market, it might be the shame of not being able to send her kids on school trips or buy them new shoes, rather than that of gyrating around a pole that truly troubles her….”

    Worthwhile posting here in the Erotic Review:

  22. YES! Don’t even get me started on the so-called “clean” earnings of professional online slut-shamers with paypal buttons >:-(

  23. Xena writes: ‘Tina, have you read anything from Kant’s Anthropology?’

    Oh dear, not that old chestnut. Anthropology is a totally different subject to pure practice reason/ethics. As Kant himself was aware.

    ‘the doctrine of morals is already clearly distinguished in its concept from the doctrine of nature (in this case anthropology) by the fact that anthropology is based on empirical principle, whereas the moral doctrine of ends, which treats of duties, is based on principles given a priori in pure practical reason.’ I.Kant Metaphysics of Morals Ak 6:385 Trans. Mary Gregor (Kant’s italics)

    As we all know, Kant was brilliant at pure practice reason/ethics, and rubbish at anthropology. We can verify the former by engaging in rigorous reasoning; and the latter by engaging in open minded observation.

    Xena says ’ And what do chapped hands and backaches have to do with my understanding of sex and/or sex work?’

    I don’t understand why you write this. You were the one who brought up ‘calluses, scarred hands and backaches’ – you seemed to suggest that because field workers suffered from things such as this, this made field work worse for a person than being a prostitute.

    You say. ‘I’ve learned a few things… and I trust you will too.’

    What’s the point of this remark? It is a good blog, but there are other ways to learn, you may be surprised to find out. If you have some argument for thinking that being a prostitute is better for a person than working in a field, then write it, don’t simply suggest that there is one on the blog somewhere.

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