In July 2015, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, unveiled a surprise announcement to introduce a new “National Living Wage” – effectively an increased minimum wage for over-25s of £7.20.
To many people, the term ‘Living Wage’ was a new concept. They had never fathomed that the previous minimum wage was, in fact, not enough to live on. Good old George, they thought. What a nice guy.
However, in truth, the Living Wage Foundation has known this for 15 years. In 2001, through a charity research project, they identified that many people were working two or three minimum wage jobs just to make ends meet.
These people were working long hours in hard, manual jobs and still couldn’t afford a decent standard of living. Many people still find themselves in that position.
From that research project, the Living Wage Campaign was born. All way back when George was writing speeches instead of delivering them.
The Voluntary Living Wage vs. the new National Living Wage
The 2001 Living Wage Campaign set out to figure out what hourly rate people needed to ensure a reasonable standard of living.
Currently this independent calculation sets that hourly rate at £8.25 for those who live outside London and £9.40 for those who live in London (and therefore have a higher cost of living).
The Living Wage Campaign focusses on signing up companies to become Living Wage Employers and (voluntarily) pay every member of staff these rates or above. Let’s call these rates the Voluntary Living Wage.
The new National Living Wage announced by Mr Osbourne is a legal requirement for companies to pay every member of staff who is over-25 £7.20 per hour.
Let me simplify: The Voluntary Living Wage is an optional choice to pay people what they need to live on. The new National Living Wage is a legal requirement to pay people more than before, but still not enough.
Why this is important to me
The cleaning industry is a low-pay sector and is frequently dogged with accusations of poor treatment of its staff. Troublingly, there is truth in its reputation.
The Invisible Workforce, the EHRC’s 2014 report into employment practices in the cleaning industry, illustrated a number of troubling cases of cleaners’ rights not being adhered to.
Among other issues such as bullying, discrimination and being subjugated, the report found that that cleaners’ biggest concern at work was low pay, with cleaners frequently paid on or around the minimum wage. As a result, cleaning operatives are forced to work long hours to make ends meet, with little disposable income or time left over from work to spend with loved ones.
If cleaners are paid above the minimum wage, their hours are often reduced to compensate for the cost of wages. This means cleaners are often forced to do a lot of work in not enough time.
I don’t think any of that is acceptable. Not only for ethical reasons but also because it simply doesn’t make business sense. Why in a people-driven industry would you want to treat your staff so badly?
Becoming a Recognised Living Wage Service Provider
I founded The Clean Space to counter prevalent injustices in the cleaning industry. We have always guaranteed to pay above the minimum wage and treat our staff with respect.
However, the Living Wage Campaign showed that there was more to be done. Paying above minimum wage but less than the Voluntary Living Wage meant we were still not doing enough.
So we set about convincing our clients to pay their cleaners the Voluntary Living Wage to give them a better standard of living.
As a cleaning company with a wide range of clients, we knew it was not viable for all of them to pay the higher Living Wage rates. However, we found many clients were happy to increase their pay rates.
To cement our commitment to this cause, we became a Recognised Living Wage Service Provider in 2014.
The Service Provider recognition was created for companies like ours who are proud advocates of the Voluntary Living Wage, but whose clients cannot all afford to pay it.
Our commitment means that we pay all our Management and Head Office staff at least the Voluntary Living Wage and always present an optional Voluntary Living Wage-rate cleaning quotation alongside our normal market rate quotation.
This has allowed The Clean Space to continue to champion the benefits of the Voluntary Living Wage without potentially alienating some clients or potential clients who might not have the budget for it.
The positive effect of paying people properly
The Invisible Workforce reported that workers within the cleaning sector view the payment of a living wage as one of the most positive changes in the cleaning industry in several years.
Earning more money allows our cleaners’ personal lives to benefit, as they’re not obliged to work longer hours, or multiple jobs.
The subsequent rise in disposable income and/or spare time also means it is easier to provide for and enjoy time with their families and friends.
However, I believe many companies are missing out on the business benefits that come from paying the Voluntary Living Wage. The direct benefits The Clean Space has enjoyed include:
- Staff morale is higher and cleaners have a greater pride in their work
- Staff turnover has drastically reduced meaning our investment in training gains a greater return and our recruitment costs are lower
- Cleaner productivity has increased meaning our teams can clean more in the time available
- The quality of work is improved which in turn has led to happier clients
These are real, tangible benefits that have made a real difference to our business.
The challenge ahead
One in five working people in the UK still earn less than the Voluntary Living Wage.
This means not only that there are too many people not earning enough but there are thousands of businesses missing out on these benefits.
Is it time your business stepped up and made the change?