ESTHER McVey has faced criticism after appearing to suggest women who have turned to sex work as a result of Government welfare reforms could find other jobs.

The Work and Pensions Secretary was told by former welfare reform minister Frank Field that difficulties with the introduction of Universal Credit (UC) have led some women to take to the red light district in his Birkenhead constituency.

Ms McVey offered to see what help could be offered to the women affected before adding Mr Field and jobcentre staff could inform them about the "record" level of job vacancies, adding: "And perhaps there are other jobs on offer."

Changing Lives, a charity that runs the Red Umbrella project in Liverpool to help protect sex workers, said it was "too glib" to say there are plenty of other jobs available and warned people who most need help are being "let down" by the system of UC and sanctions.

Labour reiterated demands to pause UC while Tory MPs expressed a desire for extra funding during a Commons question session dominated by the issue.

Ms McVey said she had been discussing UC with Chancellor Philip Hammond, insisting the details of the talks will be revealed in the Budget later this month.

Speaking in the Commons, Independent MP Mr Field - who chairs the Work and Pensions Committee - said: "Might I raise a question that I wrote to the Secretary of State about, about how Universal Credit is being rolled out in Birkenhead, how it is not going as well as we're told in the House of Commons, and some women have taken to the red light district for the first time?

"Might she come to Birkenhead and meet those women's organisations and the police who are worried about women's security being pushed into this position?"

Ms McVey replied: "We need to work with those ladies and see what help we can give them - from work coaches right the way through to various charities and organisations.

"In the meantime, I might add perhaps he could tell these ladies - and the work coaches can - that now we've got record job vacancies, 830,000 job vacancies, and perhaps there are other jobs on offer."

Stephen Bell, chief executive of Changing Lives, said in a statement outside the Commons: "Mr Field's question is a very pertinent one because Universal Credit is bringing misery to many wherever it is being rolled out.

"Our women's services have outreach teams in many parts of the North and Midlands and they encounter women who feel they have no option other than to sell their bodies to make ends meet.

"It is too glib to say there are plenty of other jobs out there. Many of these women are not at the stage where they can be helped by work coaches. They often have multiple and complex needs and their self-esteem is very low.

"They wouldn't think they were worthy of going for a job interview or even being coached in interview techniques.

"The people who need help the most are being let down by the system of Universal Credit and sanctions. Their need for money is immediate and some women simply don't know what else to do."

Back in the Commons, Conservative Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) asked Ms McVey if she was aware "how much support she has on this side of the House for our desire to see extra funding put in the Budget to restore the work allowances where they should be".

Ms McVey said she knew "all members of the House want to ensure that Universal Credit works for people who are claiming the benefit".

For Labour, shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said almost 30% of UC claims are not completed and the Government does not appear to have "any idea or interest" about what happens to those people.

She said: "There's a real danger that hundreds of thousands of people could fall out of the social security system altogether and be pushed into poverty and even left at risk of destitution.

"So will the Government step back from the brink and will it stop the roll-out of Universal Credit?"

Ms McVey, in her reply, said: "I have to say this is some of the worst scaremongering I've ever heard."

Tory MP Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) said: "Universal Credit can only work if it's fully funded. Do you agree that the effective tax rate of 63p in the pound for people moving into work is set at a punitive level and the Treasury should loosen the purse strings for them?"

Ms McVey said the Government has "considerably dropped" the rate, adding: "When we can, when the economy is on a sounder footing, we will seek to drop it even further to make sure work pays."