Equalities minister Christina McKelvie has called on the UK Government to devolve all benefits powers to the Scottish Parliament, claiming it will allow Holyrood to stamp out “survival sex”.

In response to a question from Aberdeen South and Kincardine SNP MSP Maureen Watt about the practice, which sees women turn to prostitution in order to pay for daily essentials, Ms McKelvie said the name of it alone “makes my blood run cold”.

Ms Watt said a local food bank charity in her constituency, Community Food Initiative North East (Cfine), had been contacted by police to support women who have started to sell sex because of issues with their benefits.

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It comes a month after a report on the issue was published by the Work and Pensions Committee at Westminster.

It took evidence from four anonymous women who said they turned or returned to sex work at least in part because of Universal Credit.

The committee said it had been repeatedly left unhappy with the engagement of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in its inquiry.

The report said a written submission from the UK Government attempted to disprove the link between survival sex and Universal Credit.

During general questions at Holyrood on Thursday, Ms McKelvie said: “It’s absolutely disgraceful that women should have to resort to survival sex. Even the term makes my blood run cold.

“It’s a very complex issue, but already it’s clear that women are being affected by Universal Credit’s worst aspects such as the five-week wait, punitive sanctions and the hated two-child limit.

“We have repeatedly called on the UK Government to fix the problems with Universal Credit, to protect the most vulnerable in society and to prevent more people being pushed into poverty.”

One woman interviewed as part of the Westminster inquiry said she would rather turn to sex work than allow her children to go without food.

Ms McKelvie said: “It’s imperative that all powers related to social security are devolved to this Parliament immediately.

“In 2018/19 we invested £1.4 billion to support low-income households, this includes £100 million per year to mitigate the most damaging parts of Universal Credit and try to prevent the very situations that Maureen Watt has raised.

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“However, the sheer scale of the UK Government’s cuts make mitigation by the Scottish Government unsustainable.

“Clearly mitigating aspects of Universal Credit does not address the flaws in its system.

“Only full powers over the delivery of Universal Credit and the wider social security system coming to this place will do.”