This week is Living Wage Week (6-12 November), a UK-wide celebration of the more than 3,600 employers that have voluntarily committed to ensuring their employees and subcontracted staff working on their premises earn a wage that covers the cost of living. Being able to pay your rent and utility bills may seem like a basic requirement for anybody working in the UK today. But, new research from KPMG has revealed that 5.5 million people across the country are still paid less than the real Living Wage, that’s 1 in 5 workers or 21 per cent of the UK workforce. This is an unacceptable number of people who are often forced to work long, punishing hours, sometimes across multiple jobs just to make ends meet. This is an issue facing all industries, but none more so than cleaning which is infamous for low pay and poor conditions. Perhaps this is why it has also always been at the heart of the Living Wage movement, which was started by cleaners campaigning for a better pay.
Like the Living Wage movement itself, Clean for Good began as a simple idea that aimed to make people’s lives better. In 2014, in the Parish of St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe in the City of London, a church wanted to find a practical way to help low-paid workers in their wealthy parish and Clean for Good was born. The idea then went on to win a ‘dragon’s den’ competition at the Greenbelt Festival, and by working in partnership with the Centre for Theology & Community, a brand new start-up company has been created. We wanted to take a different approach to cleaning by putting our employees firmly at the heart of our business. This included training and development but also paying a real living wage and so becoming an accredited Living Wage Employer.
The real living wage is an hourly rate of pay set independently and updated annually (and is therefore different to the UK government’s National Living Wage). It is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK. All of the over 3,600 employers who pay the Living Wage have chosen to do so a voluntary basis because they believe that their employees should be paid a fair wage for a fair day’s work.
This year, we’re delighted that at least 150,000 UK workers will be getting a pay rise as the new Living Wage rates have risen to £8.75 around the UK, and £10.20 in London. This includes our own cleaners working across London. The 2017 increases have been largely driven by higher inflation which has had an impact on the basket of goods and services that underpin the rates. Rising private rents and transport costs also had an impact.
We knew that we were launching our company into one of the most competitive markets in London. But, we also knew that we wanted to set ourselves apart and be a business with a social purpose. Clean for Good was established to provide a fairer deal for cleaners and with a vision to change how cleaning is done across London and the UK. We wanted to change how the sector is viewed and the conditions that people employed within it can expect. For us, this meant taking the ‘Fair Trade’ principle and apply it to the UK – we know there are organisations who want ethical cleaning and who are prepared to pay a fair price for it. As a result we hope that our employees will be happier, healthier and more engaged while at work to deliver the best results our clients.
We’re not alone in this thinking and this week we were pleased to hear the news that our network of accredited Living Wage employers is continuing to grow. Heathrow airport will become the first Living Wage airport, meaning its 3,200 workers will be paid the Living Wage by the end of 2020. It is joining over 3,600, employers across the UK, including a third of the FTSE 100, household names IKEA, Aviva, Nationwide, Chelsea and Everton Football Clubs and Google, as well as thousands of small businesses, who are choosing to pay the real Living Wage to ensure all staff, including onsite contractors, earn a wage that meets the real cost of living.
The Living Wage movement aims to ensure that everyone working in the UK is paid a fair wage. There is still a long way to go, especially in our own sector. But, we hope that businesses will take this opportunity to see the impact that the real living wage can have on employees and subsequently the organisations they work for and join us in paying the new rates.
By Catherine Pearson, Business Manager at Clean for Good