From Invisible & underpaid to Essential workers – Why cleaners deserve the London Living Wage

cleaning essential workers

From Invisible & underpaid to Essential workers – Why cleaners deserve the London Living Wage

Table of Contents

This article investigates the findings of a study carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The report looked at the employment practices within the contract cleaning industry. We have used this study to measure our company against the findings to implement better employment practices. We hope other companies will follow these best practices in order to improve employment practices within the contract cleaning industry.

The cleaning industry employs over 450,000 people, predominantly female and has a higher than average number of ethnic minorities, migrant and older workers. According to the labour force survey, 79% of workers in the cleaning industry are female. This is significantly higher than the UK labour force where women make up 47% of the UK workforce. Ethnic minorities account for 44% of the workers in the cleaning industry and this is again much higher in comparison to the UK workforce where ethnic minorities make up 16%. Migrants make up 30% of the cleaning industry workforce compared to 15% of the UK workforce. The cleaning industry workforce is comparatively older compared to the overall UK workforce, with ages 45-55 making up 26% and ages 55+ making up a further 22%.



The Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report that examined employment practices in the contract cleaning industry in the UK. They looked at many employment standards in key areas such as dignity and respect, pay and the impact of outsourcing on employment practices.

Dignity and respect

Dignity and respect are values that we all share but there is a lack of these values being shown in the treatment of cleaners throughout the UK. Cleaners take pride in their work but do not feel that they are given the same dignity and respect that is shown to others within the workplace. Workers in the cleaning industry often speak about being invisible, and of being the lowest of the low. Some companies even prevent cleaners using facilities such as the kitchen or canteen that is available to other employees.


In the cleaning industry, tender value often dictates what cleaning companies are able to pay their cleaners, and low pay is common across the industry with wages being close to or often at minimum wage. Cleaners interviewed from various sources reported pay rates between £5 and £7.50 per hour in the private sector and between £6.31 and £9 in the public sector. This indicates that some employees in the private sector are paid below the minimum wage.

Impact of outsourcing

One of the many reasons why a lot of companies outsource their cleaning is to reduce their costs. Outsourcing does not result in adverse impacts although it can have an impact on employment practices and working conditions. Cleaning tenders are often chosen based on the lowest price and this puts cleaning companies under pressure to deliver high quality services for the lowest possible price. To improve profits or to just stay in business, cleaning companies often reduce costs. Low cost cleaning fails to encourage positive relationships between the cleaning company and client, and can contribute to a decline in the working conditions for the cleaners.


Invisible to Essential – Coronavirus outbreak show’s the importance of cleaners

Due to the coronavirus outbreak there has been an increase in demand for cleaning services in some sectors. A lot of people have become more conscious about the cleanliness of their workplaces and homes. Many people have enquired about getting deep cleans to lessen the risk of Covid-19 being spread within their workplace or home. While most of the UK have been placed on lockdown essential workers such as NHS, TFL staff and cleaners have had an increase in their importance. Often seen as the invisible workforce now these employees are on the frontline of helping to tackle this Covid-19 pandemic. The Covid-19 virus has added a new risk for these employees who are now working in more high-risk conditions. While most people are at home relatively safe from the virus these essential and often low paid workers, are risking their health to provide these essential services.


What is the Living Wage?

A living wage is the minimum wage that can meet a worker’s needs. That varies based on the cost of living, with the cost of living being significantly higher in expensive areas. The Living Wage for the U.K. is £9.30 per hour. London is the most expensive city in the U.K., so the London Living Wage is set at £10.85 per hour. It is based on the needs of the people rather than their profession or experience, so it is the same for cleaners, clerks, repairmen, and all other workers in the city.

Companies are not obliged to pay the Living Wage to their employees, but some of them do. It is a purely voluntary standard. The good news is that paying the Living Wage offers plenty of benefits to the company, which is why hundreds of employers choose to pay it. Workers who live in London need to earn a higher wage than their counterparts in other parts of the UK to maintain the same standard of living. The city’s high cost of living has caused problems in the past, but many modern businesses are working together to solve that problem. They can do that by paying the London Living Wage, which takes the city’s unique economic circumstances into account to ensure that workers can make a living. Managers are discovering that paying the wage has as many benefits for the company as for the workers, which is why every company should consider it.



The Importance of Paying Cleaners the Living Wage

Paying a cleaner to take care of your office often sounds like an expensive proposition. You may find yourself seriously considering hiring a budget cleaner: someone who will come in, take care of the cleaning tasks, and not require you to pay quite as much for the service. However, there are a number of benefits from paying your cleaner the Living Wage.

  1. Paying a Living Wage Decreases Turnover

When employees are desperate, they will often take any job they can get including a job that pays less than a Living Wage. As soon as they have the opportunity, however, they will move on to a job with a higher rate of pay, this will result in a high rate of staff turnover for businesses that fail to pay their cleaners a Living Wage. By paying a Living Wage, on the other hand, you get cleaners who are willing to stay with your company long-term.


  1. By Paying a Living Wage, You Get Better Employees

When you pay a substandard wage, quite simply, you often end up with unmotivated and unhappy employees: those who aren’t willing to go the extra mile for their employer or for their clients. Good employees often know their worth, and they seek out jobs that will pay them what they know they’re worth. By paying a Living Wage, you attract those employees who are willing to go the extra mile in their jobs. They’re often highly motivated, attentive to details, and willing to get their hands dirty, which is exactly what you need when the time comes to clean your office.

  1. Paying a Living Wage Increases Dedication

Not only do you get better employees from the moment they sign up, when you pay a living wage, you increase employee dedication. These employees want to keep their jobs, which means they’ll be more likely to put the extra effort into their shifts every day. Paying a low wage, on the other hand, can make it difficult to motivate employees, especially when they work with little supervision, as many cleaners do.

  1. Living Wage Helps Strengthen the Economy

Paying a living wage doesn’t just benefit both your employee and your company. It also helps strengthen the economy. In many cases, employees who are actually paid a Living Wage are able to make decisions they wouldn’t make otherwise: getting married, having kids, and making purchases that help support other local businesses. By putting money into lower paid people, they tend to spend it compared to putting the money into higher paid people who tend to save it. As a result, the economy grows stronger when businesses come together with a commitment to pay a living wage for their employees.

  1. Happy Workers are More Productive

While paying a living wage isn’t a full indicator of employee happiness, employees who don’t have to worry about putting food on the table or keeping electricity turned on are more likely to be happy. Happy workers are, in general, more productive, which means that they’re more likely to move smoothly through your business and, in many cases, keep costs down since productive employees take care of their cleaning tasks faster.


Good practices for companies to follow

Regional Services is a London Living Wage accredited commercial cleaning company, we believe that all of our cleaners deserve at least the London Living Wage. We pay this when it is possible to do so and sometimes above it. We have listed some of our best practices which we encourage other companies to follow.

  1. Tender at market rate and living wage rate

Every contract we provide to clients we offer them a contract at the market rate and at the Living Wage rate where we pay the cleaner the London Living wage. We always communicate with potential clients the benefits of choosing the Living Wage contract even though it is more expensive than the market rate. By offering clients the option of paying the cleaner the Living Wage and communicating the benefits of it to them, we increase the likelihood of them choosing the Living Wage rate and therefore increase the number of cleaners we have who earn the Living Wage, which for us is £10.85 as we are based in London.

  1. Valuing Staff

At Regional Services we see our staff as our most valuable asset. Each and every member of staff are treated equally, with dignity and respect. In a report from Equality Human Rights Commission it is said that often cleaners feel like the lowest of the low. We find that simply greeting staff when they enter the building and saying thank you to the cleaners goes a long way in making these members of staff feel appreciated. We also show our appreciation to our cleaners by always paying them above the minimum wage and paying at or above the London Living Wage rate of £10.85 whenever possible to do so.

  1. Providing Training

Training is a big part of what makes Regional Services so successful. Each of our cleaners goes through regular training in cleaning techniques, health and safety and other training programmes. These training programmes are not only to improve the cleaner’s knowledge of cleaning but also to make their jobs easier. Our cleaners have openly spoken about their appreciation of these training programmes as they make the cleaner feel more confident in the job they are doing. The training also shows the cleaner that they are not a forgotten member of staff. Training gives our cleaners an opportunity to increase their knowledge and ability to become cleaning experts and progress their career in the cleaning industry.

  1. Supervision & Auditing

All our contracts are maintained with regular on-site supervision. We know from our many years of experience that the only way to maintain the quality of the service is by having great and consistent supervision. It’s so important to have managers on-site regularly while the team are cleaning the offices, to check the quality of the work. The reason for our supervision isn’t just to tell the cleaner what they are doing wrong but also to tell them what they are doing right. We use the supervision to communicate to the cleaners what a great job they are doing and to improve any areas they feel like they are not confident with.



Regional Services have always believed that essential workers deserve at least the London Living Wage and these times right now only cement that belief further. Along with being paid a wage that makes living in London doable, we also believe these essential workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, by following our four practices we know that not only will your staff feel more appreciated but they will also be better employees and respect you as a company.

Regional Services

Regional Services

Regional Services are an experienced commercial and office cleaning company based in London. Regional Services are an award winning and fully accredited cleaning company who provide a full range of facility management services and expertise including cleaning, maintenance, waste removal, pest control, gardening and more.


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