Prostitutes' support group wins £360,000 grant from Lottery

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More than £350,000 of National Lottery money has been awarded to a project that gives advice to prostitutes.

More than £350,000 of National Lottery money has been awarded to a project that gives advice to prostitutes.

The award of £359,291 to the UK Network of Sex Work Projects has been approved by the Big Lottery Fund (BLF), which was set up last year as a new channel of cash to good causes. Organisers of the network said the money would be spent on advising male and female sex workers on their safety, welfare, health and legal rights. Prostitutes who want to get off the streets will be given help, and a directory of support services will be published. The award will also enable the network to employ full-time staff and set up best practice guidelines.

The grant will reignite criticism of the way in which lottery cash is allocated, just months after a massive overhaul of the system to regain public support. Jacqui Lait, a shadow home affairs minister, said: "The awarding of controversial grants like these has undermined public confidence that lottery money goes to genuinely good causes... We want to restore the funding to the four good causes that were supported by the lottery under the Conservatives - Sport, Charities, Arts and Heritage."

Rosie Campbell, who chairs the Network of Sex Work Projects, said she believed the grant would win public support. "I may be naïve but I think general public would recognise the need for support for socially excluded groups, particularly around the issues of street sex work."

Recent research published in The Lancet medical journal found that one in 23 men had paid for sex in the past five years, and there were about 80,000 sex workers in Britain.

The size of the grant may also cause controversy. More than 90 per cent of projects receive less than £100,000.

The BLF was set up in June last year to replace the New Opportunities Fund and the Community Fund. Controversial decisions have included money for a medical trial which supplied drug addicts with heroin, and a £340,000 grant to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns.

Stung by falling ticket sales and bad publicity, the Government announced plans last month to overhaul the way in which money was distributed. The Lottery Bill will mean that the BLF will distribute £700m a year - half of the total earmarked for good causes.

The voluntary sector has raised concerns that the legislation will increase government interference in the way in which cash is allocated. The Bill will require the BLF to comply with directions from the Secretary of State for Culture.

Lottery chiefs defended the decision to award such a large grant to a sex work project.

Sir Clive Booth, who chairs the BLF said: "The issue of prostitution rouses many strongly held views on all sides but many of the women ... face real dangers from violent men and women, and social exclusion such as homelessness and problematic drug use."