The coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on businesses, jobs, and the economy. But students and young people in particular are also some of the worst hit economically with casual work and the gig economy being heavily effected.
The huge uncertainty over their financial futures has led to students revealing that they would consider doing sex work to earn more cash, according to a survey by Save The Student.
The personal finance website polled 3,161 university students in the UK between April and August this year, and the findings revealed that almost one in 20 students have done sex work to make money, while one in 10 would do it in a financial emergency.
Among students who had done sex work, almost a third had sold intimate photos of themselves while almost a quarter had done sugar dating or one in five had used the platform OnlyFans.
Video: More students are turning to sex work during COVID-19 pandemic
In March, OnlyFans told Forbes it had seen more than a 75% increase in new sign-ups compared to their usual 15% monthly growth.
With job losses and financial uncertainty for many, and loneliness exacerbated by lockdown, it is hardly surprising that users and content creators alike have been using platforms such as these to make ends meet or fulfil their emotional or sexual needs.
“Students are heavily reliant on income from part-time jobs and their parents to get by, because Maintenance Loans do not reflect the true costs of student living,” said Save the Student’s money expert, Jake Butler.
“With these vital top-up sources at increasing risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of students this year may have little choice but to drop out of university or turn to alternative ways of earning money such as sex work.”
Financial worries are a huge concern for students as 71% said they wished they had received a better financial education and three quarters have turned to their university for mental health support.
A first year student at Queen Mary University said: “I've been skipping lunch every single day at uni just to save money and to be able to buy other things that I would need.”
According to the survey 59% of students have considered dropping out of university, 36% of which put it down to money troubles and 55% citing their mental health as the reason.
The average monthly gap between what students receive for their Maintenance Loan and what they need to live off is £223 ($284), meaning that students are potentially being forced into different ways of making money to survive.
A lack of knowledge on grants and extra funding available for students may also be playing a part in the precariousness of many students’ financial situations as the survey showed 39% of students feel they weren’t made aware of other funding options available to them.
“Students shouldn’t have to worry about working to cover basic necessities and should be able to focus on enjoying and thriving in their studies,” said Sara Khan from the National Union of Students.
“Education is a right that students should access freely from cradle to grave, especially considering that without an education one cannot find suitable employment, and the cycle of poverty perpetuates itself.
“The UK government must therefore fund maintenance grants for students in place of the profit driven student loan system, and fully fund our education.”