Britain’s leading HIV charity, Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), has teamed up with Barclays to launch a new skills and employment training program, entitled SNAP, to help sex workers to transition into alternative employment.
The program is being launched at the same time as London’s oldest sex worker support service, SWISH, celebrates its 30th anniversary.
The program’s launch follows a similar scheme that THT ran to help those affected by long-term HIV illness who may have been out of the job market for a prolonged time to find new work.
SNAP – the Sex Workers and New Ambitions Project – will offer 35 sex workers in the UK capital the opportunity to join a free professional training program, with one-to-one mentoring, training in resume writing, financial management and subsequent work experience.
Funding for the project has been provided by Barclays as part of their 5 Million Young Futures commitment. According to a statement on its website, the initiative, which was launched last year, aims to provide ‘the next generation with the skills they need to support themselves, creating a ripple effect for their families and their local communities’.
SWISH (Sex Workers into Sexual Health) was launched as SW5 in 1985. Its aim was to offer support, advice and care to young men selling or exchanging sex.
The service was first based in London’s Earl’s Court, then a neighborhood popular with London’s gay community, as there was a large and visible group of often homeless young men selling sex in and around the area.
It became part of Terrence Higgins Trust in 2007. Since that time, it has greatly expanded its services, and also helps female and transgender sex workers. In fact, within London, SWISH estimates that 20% of its service users identify as transgender.
‘We’ve been working with the Terence Higgins Trust for some time,’ said Kathleen Britain, Head of Community investment UK at Barclays in a statement to Gay Star Business.
‘This new program brings an extra, practical dimension to our support for some of the most disadvantaged and difficult to reach members of society, who are often overlooked or stigmatized.
‘It forms a part of our 5 Million Young Futures program, which is aimed at helping people from across the spectrum make the first steps into mainstream employment.
‘There’s no better start on that path than access to enterprise, employability and financial skills. We can offer realistic advice on identifying the kind of work that appeals, applying for jobs, preparing for interviews, and so on, that can make a huge difference to an individual’s life and future opportunities.’
The English Collective of Prostitutes, a group campaigning for the abolition of prostitution laws and economic alternatives for sex workers, were unsure that the scheme provided answers to the problems that many sex workers face.
‘As LGBTQ sex workers, we need money to live on. Are THT and their Barclays sponsors offering bankers-style bonuses or zero-hour contracts?’ a spokesperson told Gay Star Business.
‘Many of us are mothers supporting families. If we want to leave prostitution, jobs are few, wages too low, or we are blocked from them by our ‘criminal record’ or our immigration status.
‘If THT wants to support sex workers they can back our call for decriminalization so we can work more safely and back our demand for a living wage for all workers including mothers and other carers.’