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Sex for rent is the latest evidence that our housing system is broken

And the laws have not caught up. 

Sex for rent is a modern-day exploitative practice that is occurring in our towns and cities. A quick search on the internet highlights a number of advertisements looking for an “uninhibited young girl” or “a guy that is comfortable and enjoys hanging out naked at home” – with rent that’s either free or negotiable.

Most of us would steer clear of these adverts, because we are able to find money to pay the rent rather than having to perform “sexual favours” in return for somewhere to sleep. Imagine though, if you are unable to afford a deposit to privately rent. Imagine if the local authority doesn’t have anywhere to put you, or if they’re unwilling to take you on because of previous rent arrears. Imagine if you desperately need the safety of a roof over your head and a place to go home to. You might feel you were left with very little choice.

People who take up these offers, often women but sometimes men too, find themselves in a situation where they hold none of the power. The “landlord” can kick them out at any time. Because money is not changing hands, no one is recognised in law as a landlord. And also because money is not changing hands, there’s a legal grey area over whether or not this is prostitution. But make no mistake, these tenants are being exploited, controlled and abused. The system needs to change to afford them protection.

Any non-consensual or forced sexual acts are traumatic and leave emotional scars long after they take place. 

The BBCthe Herald and journalist Vonny Moyes investigated this issue in April. Reporters following up the adverts have spoken to landlords who seemingly make a regular habit of inviting vulnerable people into their homes.

Scottish National Party member Math Campbell was so horrified to learn this was occurring across the country that he brought the matter to SNP conference. Delegates agreed with the motion that resolved to “ask the Scottish government to look into introducing new primary legislation making it an offence to solicit sex in exchange for providing accommodation, or advertising accommodation for ‘free’ with the intent to solicit sexual relationships”.

Obviously this is not just an issue in Scotland. Across the nations of the UK, sex for rent offers can be found online. And new primary legislation is not the only way to tackle it.

If we ensure that people who are homeless have better access to advice and support, this will reduce the likelihood of them becoming so desperate that they take up one of these offers. The Scottish government has recently created a new homelessness panel to improve our system. 

A lack of affordable and social housing is also a significant issue. In Scotland we are building as many new social houses as we can, but we are working against a backdrop of decades of Right to Buy, which removed homes from public ownership. Across the UK, private rents have become unaffordable for far too many people. Young people are staying with their parents longer than they used to, they cannot afford to save, and they are spending a higher proportion of their income on rent than previous generations.

Sex for rent is a symptom of a broken system. It is utterly unacceptable and we must do everything we can to stamp it out. Nobody should ever feel that the only way they can get a roof over their head is through sex with a stranger. And nobody should feel it is acceptable to coerce someone into sex, in any circumstances.

Kirsty Blackman is the SNP MP for Aberdeen North and deputy leader of the SNP in Westminster

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Why Jeremy Corbyn’s evolution on Brexit matters for the Scottish Labour party

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, an ideological ally of Corbyn, backs staying in the customs union. 

Evolution. A long, slow, almost imperceptible process driven by brutal competition in a desperate attempt to adapt to survive. An accurate description then by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, of Labour’s shifting, chimera of a Brexit policy. After an away day that didn’t decamp very far at all, there seems to have been a mutation in Labour’s policy on customs union. Even McDonnell, a long-term Eurosceptic, indicated that Labour may support Tory amendments when the report stages of the customs and trade bills are finally timetabled by the government (currently delayed) to remain in either “The” or “A” customs union.

This is a victory of sorts for Europhiles in the Shadow Cabinet like Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer. But it is particularly a victory for Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. A strong ally of Jeremy Corbyn who comes from the same Bennite tradition, Leonard broke cover last month to call for exactly such a change to policy on customs union.

Scotland has a swathe of marginal Labour-SNP seats. Its voters opted voted by a majority in every constituency to Remain. While the Scottish National Party has a tendency to trumpet this as evidence of exceptionalism – Scotland as a kind-of Rivendell to England’s xenophobic Mordor – it’s clear that a more Eurocentric, liberal hegemony dominates Scottish politics. Scotland’s population is also declining and it has greater need of inward labour through migration than England. It is for these reasons that the SNP has mounted a fierce assault on Labour’s ephemeral EU position.

At first glance, the need for Labour to shift its Brexit position is not as obvious as Remainers might have it. As the Liberal Democrat experience in last year’s general election demonstrates, if you want to choose opposing Brexit as your hill to die on… then die you well may. This was to some extent replicated in the recent Scottish Labour Leadership race. Anas Sarwar, the centrist challenger, lost after making Brexit an explicit dividing line between himself and the eventual winner, Leonard. The hope that a juggernaut of Remainer fury might coalesce as nationalist resentment did in 2015 turned out to be a dud. This is likely because for many Remainers, Europe is not as high on their list of concerns as other matters like the NHS crisis. They may, however, care about it however when the question is forced upon them.

And it very well might be forced. One day later this year, the shape of a deal on phase two of the negotiations will emerge and Parliament will have to vote, once and for all, to accept or reject a deal. This is both a test and an incredible political opportunity. Leonard, a Scottish Labour old-timer, believes a deal will be rejected and lead to a general election.

If Labour is to win such an election resulting from a parliamentary rejection of the Brexit deal, it will need many of those marginal seats in Scotland. The SNP is preparing by trying to box Labour in. Last month its Westminster representatives laid a trap. They invited Corbyn to take part in anti-Brexit talks of opposition parties he had no choice but to reject. In Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon has been ripping into the same flank that Sarwar opened against Richard Leonard in the leadership contest, branding Labour’s Brexit position “feeble”. At the same time the Scottish government revealed a devastating impact assessment to accompany the negative forecasts leaked from the UK government. If Labour is leading a case against a “bad deal”,  it cannot afford to be seen to be SNP-lite.

The issue will likely come to a head at the Scottish Labour Conference early next month, since local constituency parties have already sent a number of pro-EU and single market motions to be debated there. They could be seen as a possible challenge to the leadership’s opposition to the single market or a second referendum. That is, If these motions make it to debate, unlike at national Labour Conference in 2017, where there seemed to be an organised attempt to prevent division.

When Leonard became leader, he stressed co-operation with the Westminster leadership. Still, unlike the dark “Branch Office” days of the recent past, Scottish Labour seems to be wielding some influence in the wider party again. And Scottish Labour figures will find allies down south. In January, Thornberry used a Fabian Society speech in Edinburgh, that Enlightenment city, to call for a dose of Scottish internationalism in foreign policy. With a twinkle in her eye, she fielded question after question about Brexit. “Ah…Brexit,” she joked. “I knew we’d get there eventually”. Such was Thornberry’s enthusiasm that she made the revealing aside that: “If I was not in the Leadership, then I’d probably be campaigning to remain in the European Union.”