London is no city for young women: Will Sarah return to escort work to pay for her debts?

Down at the food bank, the volunteers hope that clients can over time move on from their challenging situations to something better. Sarah, who has featured here before, is struggling to get the proper support she needs to build a better life. She came here with a voucher a few weeks ago, worried that she was about to get evicted from her hostel. Some calls to the housing association were made, and the threat of eviction was withdrawn after her case was looked at again.

So she had a roof over her head for a while longer. But Sarah (not her real name), a 28-year-old law graduate who has battled for many years with a serious mental illness – Borderline Personality Disorder – came in again today and what she told me made my heart sink. This very intelligent, thoughtful and sensitive young woman has had to deal not only with BPD – which she sees as a life sentence – but with a violent home environment, from which she’s recently fled. Her full story is here. She came to this borough as a homeless person, because she couldn’t stay where she was. While she’s not currently at risk of being homeless again, and is receiving employment and support allowance and disability living allowance, she has considerable debts, including a loan from Wonga at the usual rates (for those of you who don’t know by now, Wonga’s rate of interest is an eye-watering 365 per cent on £150 for 18 days). She is also trying to deal with a massive bill from Vodaphone, and some student credit card debt.

Sarah told me that she thinks she may have to return to escort work to pay her debts. Why is she considering this? She explained to me: ‘I feel as if I’m in fight or flight mode. It’s horrible and wrong, but if I balance all that against the risk of sinking further and further into debt…. The place I work for gives you drivers and a bodyguard. It’s a seedy underworld, but maybe that’s where I think I belong. It’s what I know.’ When she has done this work in the past, she says she ‘feels like she can blot it out with drink and cannabis…. I’ve done it before, so I think what does another time mean to me’. This work would pay her £60 an hour cash in hand.

How does she feel about her life? ‘I’m sick of being a burden and a leech. I’m heading towards 30 and what have I got to show for it? I’m not stable enough to work full time. I can’t jump from being on benefits to funding a deposit and rent for a flat. I haven’t worked full-time since 2010.’

Sarah began the first stage of some very gruelling treatment for her BPD, but to make progress she would need to undertake another two years of therapy over about three days a week. Having left her home and pulled out of treatment, she would need to start again and access services in this borough. But the GP she has registered with has not yet received the paperwork from her old GP. So although she has been prescribed her medication, she does not yet have a community psychiatric nurse. Our food bank manager made sure she left today with details of the local self-referral mental health services and details of excellent debt advice charity Christians Against Poverty. We hope she gets appointments with both very soon indeed.

Send her all the luck in the world. She’s got more inner strength that she realises and I’m left with a sense that she will now fight to get the support she needs. The most disgraceful thing is that social, housing and welfare policies are making life more difficult by the day for Sarah and the people like her, here in London and throughout the UK.

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11 thoughts on “London is no city for young women: Will Sarah return to escort work to pay for her debts?

  1. I can’t read articles like this without feeling profound sadness; but I also feel angry. Angry that people like “Sarah” are put in this position by this government. When did we become a nation of people who say, “I’m alright Jack, pull up the ladder”
    I hope things come right for “Sarah” soon and a massive thank you to food banks up and down the country, who help their clients in so many ways.

  2. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills as neatly as with the layout to your weblog.
    Is that this a paid subject matter or did you modify it yourself?

    Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to peer a nice blog like this
    one nowadays..

    1. Thanks for your kind comments. I’m a freelance journalist, interested mainly in health and social policy. I’ve also been using this blog since last autumn to document the personal stories of the people who use food banks in the UK. While I want to underpin the accounts with some policy analysis, my main focus is on the individuals and families feeling the pain caused by the austerity narrative here in the UK.

  3. This is an excellent article. I really hope that Sarah will get the help she needs to recover from BPD. It is actually a very treatable disorder with a good prognosis if the person can access effective long-term help.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Will try to pass your encouraging perspective on to Sarah. Feel that she would indeed make progress if she can access good quality treatment once more. She’s been through a terrible time, and needs effective support, as you point out.

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