The human cost of UK's £300m addiction to lap-dancing

The strip club industry is surviving the downturn, but only by targeting the most vulnerable, as women are paid less to perform

Amy stopped working in lap- dancing clubs six months ago. For a while she enjoyed the work: it brought in much- needed cash at a time when money was short, the rent was due and immediate job options were limited. But eventually she knew it was time to quit.

"I wasn't a lap dancer for very long, but from what I gather, the industry has become much tougher to work in since the recession," she says.

"Men still come to the clubs but fewer are buying private dances, which is where the real money is made. A girl won't make any money at all if she doesn't do any private dances, so it's become tough."

Like any industry, the stripping trade has had to weather the economic difficulties of the past four years. "There are fewer customers during the week," the 22-year-old, who worked the London club circuit, explains.

"The weekdays used to be fairly busy with mad weekends, but now it's only the weekends that are busy. You can feel that the industry is being squeezed by the recession, but it's not desperate."

Many commentators have expressed surprise that the industry hasn't taken a more noticeable hit amid Britain's continuing financial gloom.

The reason for this, according to new research, may be that clubs are charging their dancers more money to work in their venues and hiring a larger numbers of strippers to compensate for falling business from punters.

Last year, the licensing rules governing lap dancing venues were significantly tightened, but the number of clubs operating in Britain is still around 300 – a 50 per cent increase on 10 years ago. An estimated 10,000 dancers are thought to work at any one time over the weekends in an industry worth around £300m.

Academics at the University of Leeds, who are currently midway through one of the most detailed studies of the lap- dancing trade ever conducted in Britain, say dancers are now taking home significantly less pay. They have found that the average shift for a stripper has diminished from around £280 a year ago to less than £230.

"Overall there was a consensus that the cost for dancers of working in a club was increasing in order to cover business overheads, specifically the wages of the other workers in the club, and ensure the owner makes profit even when dancers made comparatively little," said Dr Teela Sanders, who presented her findings with her colleague Dr Kate Hardy at the British Sociological Association's annual conference yesterday.

The vast majority of strip clubs in Britain charge dancers for the privilege of working in their venues. Most have to pay for their own clothes, a "house fee" and a commission to the club on money made through private dances. Some also have to tip bar staff and waitresses to send wealthy clients their way, and many clubs also impose financial penalties for various transgressions such as chewing gum or talking on a mobile phone.

Many of the dancers interviewed by researchers said house fees had risen over the past year, with clubs in the South and London charging on average £80 a shift and clubs in the north asking between £30 and £50. Over the weekend, house fees often triple. Clubs are also increasing the number of girls they hire on any given night to increase their revenue.

Sasha, a 21-year-old from Liverpool who has worked across clubs in the North-west for much of the past year, says: "The house fee where I now work has gone from £30 to £50, and even on a weeknight we might have as many as eight girls working the poles. It means that you get fewer private dances, which is where you get to make the kind of money that is worth taking home."

But others say venue managers treat them well. "In the club I work in there has been no change in either house fees or the number of dancers," says Jen Richardson, a dancer in Shoreditch, east London.

"You get peaks and troughs throughout the year which is pretty standard for any service industry. But there hasn't been any general downturn."

Of the 197 dancers interviewed by the University of Leeds researchers, 70 per cent of respondents reported leaving at least one shift with no money to show for it. Nonetheless, job satisfaction remained high at 74 per cent with the most popular perks being the flexible hours and the ability to earn cash straight away.

Case study: I get paid to drink, dance, feel sexy and gossip with my friends. Yeah, it's awful

I got into it because I wanted to be a pole dancer. I was always messing around whenever I saw a pole and felt inspired having won a pole-dancing competition between friends. I made £240 on my first night and I got home and sat with my housemate staring at all this cash, counting it over and over. I was hooked.

Up north, a dance was a tenner and VIP/sit downs were a rare treat. Looking back, it was busy – weekends were busiest. After two years, having tried another local club and returning to my original one, I was one of the top earners, averaging about £250-£300 a night on a weekend and £50 on a weeknight. Just before I made the move to London I noticed that [business] was really drying up. I read a lot of things about how stripping used to be amazing, but I just assumed the money wasn't coming in because of my location. If a single guy spent £200 it was the month's biggest news.

But here I was, having guys trying to bargain with me on a £10 dance, asking for half-price discounts. So I made the move to London, where dances were £20 and half an hour of your time went from a modest northern £75 to £200. The downside? The club takes 50 per cent, and 35 per cent beyond £500. I like to believe this balances out because we're more likely to come into contact with big spenders, and the prices are higher anyway.

The competition is unbelievable. It is dog-eat-dog to the core. As a London newbie battling to learn how to make £200, to dance naked in front of you, with no touching, for half an hour sounds like a good deal – knowing full well that a perfectly good escort will cost around £150 for an hour. I average about £150 a night. This is an average worked out over a month including all the best and worst nights. Four nights a week at an average of £150 is not bad, but in stripper terms that is horrific.

The most commonly asked question is "You seem like nice girl, why are you doing this?" It's the most frustrating, patronising question in the world. I like to call them the Richard Geres of the strip club (aka Pretty Woman). I was not held at gun-point and marched in here, I chose to audition. If a customer is rude to me here, unlike a waitress, I can give him what for and leave, have him thrown out of the club even.

I make much, much more than minimum wage. My salary is better than that of an entry level job by about £10,000 – a job which I can't even get because of the economic climate despite having a degree and relevant experience. I am self-employed, I choose my own hours and have a lot of free time. I get paid to drink, dance and feel sexy. And I get to spend all night gossiping with my girlfriends.

Yeah, what a terrible job. Please rescue me.

Lap dancing in numbers

300 Estimated number of lap-dancing clubs operating in Britain.

10,000 Number of lap dancers working in the industry at any one time.

£230 Amount of money a stripper earns in an average shift, down from around £280 a year ago.

74 per cent of 197 lap dancers interviewed said they were satisfied with their job. Popular perks included flexible hours and the ability to earn cash quickly.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links