More students turning to sex work to pay bills, survey reveals

The number of students turning to sex work doubles since 2017

One in 25 students are now involved in ‘adult’ work to make ends meet, money advice site Save the Student has revealed.

Examples of adult work cited by the study include sugar dating, selling used underwear and having sex for money.

The figure has doubled since 2017 and, when considered alongside Hesa data, suggests around 70,000 undergraduates may be involved in exchanging sexual activity for money. The increase corresponds to rising living costs and feelings of helplessness about money among students, Save the Student said.

The increase corresponds to rising living costs and feelings of helplessness about money among students

The nationwide research also revealed that a severe lack of financial support is encouraging the trend across British universities. Most notably, the maintenance loan falls short of average living costs by £267 a month.

Why are more students turning to adult work?

According to the wider survey, students spend an average of £807 a month on living costs – up from £770 in 2018. In contrast, the average maintenance loan* award is worth just £540 a month.

The maintenance loan falls short of average living costs by £267 a month

Although parents chip in £134.25, on average, the research suggested, confusion about the official parental contribution means one in three students feel their parents don’t give them enough to live on.

These are the most common adult jobs students turn to:

With many students seeing adult work as a quick financial fix, the concern is that some are unprepared for the effects on their mental health.

The combined lack of funding leaves 79% of undergrads stressed about making ends meet at university. More than half (57%) say their mental health suffers as a result, while 41% add that money worries keep them up at night.

Despite widespread hardship and associated stress, 62% of students who ask their university for funding or financial support say it’s not easy to get help. The majority (67%) turn to part-time jobs to stay afloat, although one in two working students struggles to balance shifts with studies.

Read more: The student postponing a graduate career in genetics because sex work pays more

Hannah Morish, a psychotherapist and higher education lead at The Student Room, said: “Adult work can feel isolating because of the stigma attached to it, meaning that if the student has a negative or dangerous experience they might feel unable to talk about it, leading to a deeper sense of loneliness.

“Over time, recurring experiences like this can lead to emotional and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

“Universities and student unions need to review whether they have advice and safe spaces on campus or online to support students who are considering or actively involved in this kind of work. Students can use online spaces, such as The Student Room forums anonymously.”

Average students’ living costs, according to Save the Student: 

Living costs outweigh funding

Jake Butler, money expert for Save the Student, said: “The doubling of students involved in adult and sex work over two years is alarming and very concerning. But it’s not all that unexpected, given the financial situation students are put in.

“Living costs continue to grossly outweigh the amount of funding available, leaving on average a shortfall of £267 a month according to our latest research.

“Maintenance Loans are means-tested, meaning that the government expects parents to plug the gap. But most parents have no idea and their children are forced to desperate measures just to continue their studies. Addressing the funding gap must be the highest priority for Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore MP, who was appointed last month.

“Meanwhile, it’s more important than ever for students to be aware of the financial pressures from the outset, so they can plan and budget effectively.”

Read the full survey findings here:

* Average maintenance loan derived from an FOI request

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