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Antoinette Daniel in Good Housekeeping June 2023

Why I love running my own business

I’ve run my own business for 11 years so far and it’s been a rollercoaster of experiences and emotions.

When the cost of living crisis loomed, I wondered if it was time to hang up my entrepreneurial hat and become employed. After about a week of considering this prospect, I realised I am now unemployable. The desire to work for anyone else is permanently in the past.

The rewards

Running a business must be like raising a child or being in a long term romantic relationship. There are good days and challenging days. But for so much of the time the rewards of seeing people’s lives transformed through interacting with my businesses spurs me on to continue.

Just Helpers: The ethical cleaning agency

I started Just Helpers accidentally. In 2013 I left my job as a secondary school teacher, because I wanted to focus on campaigning against the exploitation of migrant workers. I needed to support myself while I did this, and as I’ve always enjoyed cleaning, it was a natural choice.

Then, I realised there was an opportunity here to combine the two. By creating a cleaning business with fair pay and decent working conditions at its heart, I could help migrant and other low-paid workers. So Just Helpers was born.

Now, we work across London, matching clients with Helpers (they are more than cleaners!) and we are proud to be affiliated to the Living Wage Foundation.

Justly: The tech solution

A few years in to running Just Helpers, I realised that the tech available for the cleaning industry was not adequate. It wasn’t solving the problems we were encountering as a business. And this is still a common lament in the cleaning industry.

So we set out to create our own solution. Right now, we are in the middle of birthing Justly working to create a system that works for cleaning businesses. We are at the scary stage of looking for investors, but we are excited about the future.

EntrePLANeurs: The support tribe for female business owners

My latest passion project is EntrePLANeurs which I have set up with my great friend Lynsey Harrison. We wanted to create a safe space for women in business, following the emotional strain of juggling a business and family responsibilities during COVID. We have a Facebook Group and we offer regular retreat days for female business owners to meet together, support one another and focus on growing their business.

My Why

I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching as I look forward to turning 50 in 2024. I’m asking existential questions like why am I here on the planet?

The common thread in my life is a drive to empower people to find their joy. I want to enable them to work from a place of strength, and to positively impact the world around them. The freedom to call the shots, set the culture, and work with the people that share your vision and passion is an amazing thing to be able to do. And I get all of this running my own business.

Through a combination of the businesses, we have impacted thousands of lives. We have spread the message about the need to treat people with dignity, and to pay them a wage that enables them to thrive. We have shown people in low paid work that they have the right to thrive in their work and their lives – through fair pay and decent conditions.

I am conscious that I have less birthdays ahead than I have behind me. I no longer have a desire to save the entire world. But I am very clear that I am a a changemaker, through the way I run my business, spend my money, interact with strangers and impact a few individuals. This is how we change the world – one person at a time – and this has meaning and worth.

How to pay your cleaner

Hiring a cleaner can be a great way to free up your time and take care of your home.

But you might be worrying about how to pay your cleaner. How much should you pay – and how can you make sure you are paying your cleaner fairly? Here are my tips.

Do your research

Find out the going rate for cleaning in your area. Remember that the cost of cleaning will vary from area to area. If you live in a city, you can expect to pay more per hour than in more rural areas. In London, costs are higher still.

Offer a fair rate for your cleaning and you are more likely to attract a great cleaner to work in your home – and they will stay for longer. By paying your cleaner the Real Living Wage, you can be confident you are paying a fair hourly rate. Check here for the latest rates.

What’s included?

As well as the time spent cleaning your home, when you are working out how to pay your cleaner, there are other considerations to include.

You can expect to pay for travel time to your home, so make sure you include this.
Will you pay holiday pay? Choosing to do this will make a huge difference to your cleaner. You can read the government guidance on how to calculate holiday pay here. This guide from ACAS is also helpful.

Have you considered how to pay your cleaner if they are sick? Research shows that many cleaners feel they have to work when they are unwell, because they do not qualify for Statutory Sick Pay. By paying your cleaner sick pay, you will be contributing hugely to their wellbeing.

Arranging your cleaning through an agency eliminates the hassle of working out how to pay your cleaner. A reputable agency will deal with all of this for you, so you can relax and enjoy your clean, calm home.

What’s the budget?

How much can you afford to pay for your cleaning? If you have a budget in mind, and you know the hourly rate for cleaning in your area, you will be able to work out how many hours of cleaning you can afford.

Then it’s time to contact potential cleaners to see if they are a good fit for you and your home.

Talking about pay

Many of us feel awkward talking about money. And discussing pay with a potential cleaner is no exception. But by making sure everyone is clear about the pay rate from the beginning, you will avoid problems and misunderstandings down the track.

Agree the number of hours your cleaner will spend on each visit, or which tasks they will complete – and how much you will pay for the work.

Talk to your cleaner about whether monthly or weekly payment is best. Agree how you will pay your cleaner (cash, cheque, or via your bank) and stick to it. One thing I insist on with my Helper is paying them at the beginning of the month rather than the end. This gives them cashflow security and peace of mind.

Of course, you should always pay your cleaner on time. This will help you maintain a great working relationship, as well as being a sign of your respect for them and their work.

Gifting and tipping

You may feel you would like to recognise religious festivals or special occasions with a gift for your cleaner. This is a lovely way to show your appreciation for their work.

Instead of giving wine or flowers, consider paying your cleaner a cash bonus. If you would prefer to give a voucher, Post Office Gift Cards are a great option as they can be used in a wide range of shops.

Final thoughts

When you are deciding how to pay your cleaner, there’s a lot to think about. But get it right, and you can be confident you can enjoy a clean conscience as well as a clean home.

Why do Women End Up Doing All the Housework?

In the ever-evolving landscape of gender roles and expectations, it’s disheartening to witness that even in 2023, women often find themselves shouldering the majority of household chores. A Guardian survey shows that they feel they end up doing all of the housework. Covid lockdown revealed that between 60-70% of women and girls assumed a greater responsibility for housework and cooking than their make counterparts. Despite the progress made in various aspects of gender equality, the division of housework remains a prevailing issue. Surprisingly, the guilt associated with seeking external help for domestic tasks adds an extra layer of complexity to the situation. In this blog, we delve into the root causes behind this. We explore ways to challenge these norms and enable us foster a more equitable and supportive home environment for everyone.

Understanding the Household Gender Divide

Historically, societal norms have assigned specific roles to men and women within the household. Traditional gender roles have perpetuated the notion that women are primarily responsible for maintaining the home, while men focus on external responsibilities. Despite significant advancements towards gender equality, these deeply ingrained stereotypes continue to influence household dynamics.

The Emotional Labour Factor

Beyond the physical aspect of housework, there’s another dimension at play: emotional labour. This refers to the mental and emotional effort involved in organising and managing a household, including planning, delegating tasks, and remembering various responsibilities. Women often find themselves disproportionately carrying this burden, which can lead to burnout and a sense of emotional exhaustion.

Societal Expectations and Pressures

Societal expectations further exacerbate the household gender divide. Women may feel judged or criticised if their homes don’t meet certain standards. This can be the case even if they are juggling multiple roles and responsibilities outside the house. As a result, they may internalise the belief that seeking help signifies a personal failure, rather than a pragmatic decision to alleviate the workload.

Breaking Free from the Guilt

Recognise and Challenge Gender Norms: Acknowledge that traditional gender roles are outdated. Both partners in a relationship can (and should) share household responsibilities in a way that suits their individual strengths and preferences.

Open Communication: Encourage open and honest conversations about household chores and the emotional labour involved. Discuss how each partner can contribute effectively and support each other in maintaining a balanced and harmonious home.

Seeking External Help is Empowering: Embrace the idea that seeking professional cleaning help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a practical step towards reclaiming time for activities that truly matter to you.

Share Responsibilities Equitably: Create a schedule that allocates tasks fairly, considering each person’s availability and abilities. Rotate responsibilities regularly to ensure a sense of shared ownership.

In 2023, it’s crucial to challenge the norms that perpetuate the gendered division of household labour. By fostering open communication, challenging stereotypes, and embracing external support, we pave the way towards a more equitable and guilt-free future for everyone. At Just Helpers, we have a mixed gender team. We provide top-notch cleaning services to households across London. This contributes to a fairer distribution of responsibilities and allows individuals to reclaim their time and energy. 

Together, let’s build a society where everyone can thrive. Let’s stop being weighed down by outdated expectations and make sure that the womenfolk are not left holding the baby while doing all the housework.

Winner | Living Wage Advocate of the Year

I am delighted that we have been awarded ‘Advocate of the Year’ in this year’s Living Wage Champion Awards.

This award recognises our work promoting the Living Wage in the cleaning industry.

A Core Value

From the very beginning, Just Helpers Cleaning Agency have strived to pay above the Living Wage. Our cleaning team, who live in London, need to thrive in the city that they work and live in. And that means decent pay.

Workers in the cleaning sector are more likely to be female, racially diverse and non-native English speakers. My own experience working with anti-trafficking organisations showed me how vulnerable to to exploitation this population can be.

Sharing the Message

We were one of the first cleaning agencies in London to be recognised by the Living Wage Foundation. And as the founder of Just Helpers I have always promoted the London Living Wage both within our industry and beyond.

This means taking every opportunity to talk about the need for fair pay and decent working conditions in every sector. And with the current cost of living crisis, this is more important that ever.

The Cost of Cleaning

Our mission is to transform attitudes to cleaning services in the UK. So, I want everyone who engages a cleaner – whether in their home or business – to understand the real cost of ethical cleaning. It shouldn’t be about getting the cheapest service. It should be about valuing the expertise and skills of cleaners by paying the proper rate for their work.

Right now, the cleaning industry, alongside several other, traditionally low pay sectors, is experiencing major recruitment problems. We believe that by ensuring our Helpers receive above the London Living Wage, we can attract, and retain, skilled cleaning colleagues in a crowded market.

We want to share the message that the Living Wage not only benefits our colleagues, but also benefits us a business. And we hope that the Living Wage movement continues to grow as more businesses join. As a Living Wage Advocate, along with the Just Helpers team, I am so proud to be a part of it.

Recruitment Problems in Cleaning

For the first time in our history, we have recruitment problems. We are struggling to find Helpers to work with us.

In the past, sharing the benefits of working with Just Helpers – our great working conditions, paying at least the London Living Wage, our caring, supportive values – has been enough to attract the right people.

But now, we’re experiencing real difficulties. And we are not alone in our recruitment problems.

A recent report highlighted critical staff shortages in several sectors including retail, warehousing, airport baggage handling, cleaning, and hospitality. In fact, one quarter of medium sized UK companies are experiencing serious recruitment problems which threaten normal operations.

Why Recruitment Problems?

Anecdotally, we hear there’s unease amongst the sections of our communities who would often come to work for us. People who moved to live in the UK from parts of Europe such as Bulgaria, are feeling more uncertain. Since Brexit, they may feel unwelcome here. And the rise in the cost of living is adding to their worries. They are looking for higher pay than sectors like cleaning can afford.

Brexit Impact

Brexit has introduced restrictions on freedom to move to the UK for work. The emphasis is on highly qualified people, or those with skills which are under-represented in the UK workforce. Sadly, the list of Shortage Occupations” does not include many traditionally “blue collar” sectors such as cleaning. And with over 1.66 million active job adverts recorded in August 2021, UK job seekers are not choosing to work in cleaning.

The Pay Dilemma

You may be asking, why don’t we simply increase pay to attract people to work with us? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Small cleaning businesses may afford to do this, because their turnover is below the threshold for VAT. However, for medium-sized businesses like ours, the tax burden means that we cannot afford to increase pay without increasing our charges to our clients. And we know our clients are feeling the pinch too.

As well as the recruitment problems, this situation brings other ugly consequences. It plays into the “cash in hand” culture, which places workers at risk of breaking the law if they don’t declare their income. In addition, it further disadvantages bonafide, ethical businesses like ours who want to do the right thing.

So what is the solution to this recruitment crisis in the cleaning industry?

A Potential Workforce

There are thousands of people in the UK right now who are desperate to work, but are prevented from seeking a job because of their immigration status.

The war in Ukraine has brought refugees to this country who want to build a new life for themselves and their families. Ukrainian citizens who have family in the UK, or who are sponsored under the “Homes for Ukraine” scheme, can get a visa which enables them to work here.

However, for those outside of these schemes, the usual points-based immigration system applies, which means Ukrainians who could fill vacancies in sectors such as cleaning, would not be eligible.

In addition, in the UK there are many people who have fled countries other than Ukraine, who are unable to work. These are asylum seekers, who may have to wait months or years for their asylum claim to be processed. During this time they are not allowed get a job, and are trying to survive on as little as £5.66 per day. And under new plans from the UK government, those arriving through illegal routes may be sent across the world to Rwanda.

This seems illogical, as well as inhumane. In a situation which echoes that which brought the Windrush generation to our aid after the Second World War, we need people to fill our vacancies in these key sectors.

Allowing asylum seekers to work in sectors where we have a real recruitment crisis would help the UK economy. It would alleviate shortages on supermarket shelves, and reduce the need for price rises for consumers. And it would give real hope and dignity to people who are simply looking for a safe place to live.

Our Mission

Just Helpers was founded in response to the exploitation of vulnerable people in our cities – including migrant workers. We provide our people with decent working conditions, fair pay and the chance to reach their potential through support and mentoring.

We would welcome the opportunity to recruit people from Ukraine, and elsewhere, who share our values and want to be part of the Just Helpers family. Because we need them to grow our business, just as much as they need us.

Antoinette in Woman Magazine

Easter in Ukraine

This Easter, our thoughts and prayers are with Ukraine.

At Just Helpers we are working to support our Helper Olia, who is from Ukraine, at this very difficult time. I asked Olia how her family would usually be celebrating Easter.

“Easter in Ukraine is a very big celebration, second only to Christmas. In Ukrainian we call Easter ‘Velykden’ which means ‘Great Day’. We celebrate Easter in the Julian Calendar, so it will be the 24th April in Ukraine. As I now live in London, I celebrate Easter twice!

Many of the traditions around Easter in Ukraine as the same as Christian traditions in other parts of the world, but we have some which are particular to our folklore.

Easter Preparations

We start preparing the week before Easter, in Holy Week, which is the week following Palm Sunday. The Thursday of Holy Week is called “Clean Thursday” where we clean the house inside and out. We go to the cemetery to clean the graves of our loved ones, and to plant flowers. We also make painted, decorated eggs called Pysanka.

The Food

We prepare the special food which we will eat at Easter. Food is a very important part of our celebrations. We bake a sweet bread called “Paska” which is similar to panattone. This is part of our Easter basket, along with eggs, butter cheese and salt The contents of the Easter basket is different depending on the traditions of the village where you live.

Food is particularly important at Easter in Ukraine because traditionally people fast during Lent. Nowadays, for many people that might mean giving up meat, but in the past they would also have avoided eating eggs and cheese as well.

On Good Friday, many people will fast all day. They will go to church, read the Bible and pray.

On Saturday, everyone takes their Easter basket to the church to be blessed, but we can’t start eating it until Sunday!

On Easter Sunday, the whole family go to Mass together. We greet each other with “Christ is Risen!” and we will use this greeting when we meet friends and family for a month after Easter.

After church we have a big family feast and we are finally able to enjoy the treats in our Easter basket.

Spring Games

Children will get together in the church yard to play Spring games, such as Hide and Seek. They have “egg battles”, knocking their painted eggs together until they break. The last egg to break is the winner!

The Monday after Easter is a day for remembering family and friends who have died, with a special service in church. This day is also known as “Wet Monday” when children pour water over each other and themselves . In the cities, there are organised events so that children can have fun with water games, and the adults can stay dry!

Easter in London

I have lived in London since August 2020, and I follow many of these traditions with my family here. We make an Easter basket, and take it to be blessed in church. The children have egg battles and throw water around on Wet Monday – fortunately many of our neighbours are Ukrainian so they understand!

My family in Ukraine

This Easter of course I will be thinking of my family back home. My family are safe for now, but the war is getting closer. They live in Western Ukraine, not far from the border with Poland. Recently an empty factory just 7 kilometres was hit by a missile.

We feel very helpless so far away, but we need to stay strong, and provide support in whatever way we can.

We are very grateful for the help being offered by the British people, and we are praying that the war will end soon, and Ukraine will be able to rebuild.”

Olia’s charity of choice is UNICEF.

#BreakTheBias: Creating Change for Women in Cleaning

The theme of  International Women’s Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias. We are invited to imagine a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination; a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive. 

When we see #BreakTheBias, the conversation can often focus on the lack of women in the boardroom, or in senior leadership positions. We can talk about the need to support women and girls to aspire to exciting, highly paid careers in traditionally male-dominated sectors such as tech and engineering. We might discuss the gender balance in local and national government. 

However, achieving equality is also about bringing about change in those industries where women are currently over-represented, and often exploited. Like the cleaning industry.

A Good Day’s Pay for a Good Day’s Work

Cleaning is often perceived as low skilled, low status work.  It may not be the type of work we aspire to. It might sometimes be messy, or unpleasant. But the pandemic showed us all too clearly that cleaners, like care staff, and shop and transport workers, are truly key to our society. This work is vital, and the people who do it deserve respect, decent conditions, and fair pay. And those people are often women. 

Just Helpers was founded out of a passion to end the exploitation of vulnerable people in our communities. I saw first hand how migrant workers, particularly women, experienced low pay and poor conditions. This could mean holding down several jobs and working long hours, just to make ends meet.

At Just Helpers all of our people receive the London Living Wage, – the only UK hourly rate based on real living costs. Sadly this is rare in our industry, but we are campaigning for it to become the norm.

Our Vision: Where every cleaner in the UK gets paid the real living wage and the rest of the world follows suit.  

Achieving Potential

We support the aims of #BreakTheBias to achieve a level playing field by tackling discrimination. A level playing field also means fair and decent pay, to give women the space, energy and choice to focus on their aspirations.

As well as paying fairly, we want to give our people the opportunity and confidence to achieve their potential. Most of our managers started out as Helpers (they are much more than cleaners) – and progressed through training, support and mentoring.

Our team take pride in their work, whether as a Helper or a manager. We provide ongoing training, encourage the sharing of expertise, and reward excellence through our “Helper of the Month” programme. 

In the cleaning industry, 69% of all workers are women, while the majority of management positions, which attract higher pay, are occupied by men. We are leading the way on redressing this balance, by supporting women to take leadership roles within our business.

Leading the Way

Of course, it’s not enough to be sure that our own Helpers are paid fairly. We want to be a catalyst for change across the cleaning industry, and beyond. That’s why I am active in business communities, forging connections and speaking about how to grow a profitable and ethical business. We are proud to be a Living Wage Affiliate. We are working with partner businesses such as our commercial cleaning running mate Clean For Good to showcase what is possible in the cleaning sector. Plus, we are campaigning to change the tax system which makes it so difficult for cleaning businesses to be both profitable and to pay fairly.

Be the Change you Want to See

We want to make it easy for businesses and individuals to do the right thing. We offer excellent, high quality commercial and domestic cleaning across London. As a Just Helpers client, you can be confident that your Helper is being paid fairly and your space will be sparkling clean too. By booking your cleaning with Just Helpers, you really are helping to change the world one clean at a time. 

So for this International Women’s Day, we invite you to remember that the battle to #BreaktheBias is not just in the boardroom, or the C-Suite. It’s not just about equal pay, vital though that is. It’s also about pay and working conditions which end the exploitation of women, enable them to have choices, and achieve their potential and aspirations, whatever they may be. 

Antoinette’s Christmas 2020 Message

Despite the many challenges of 2020, there are signs of hopeful change that we can all hold on to.

What a difference a year makes! Last Christmas, my parting words were, “may you know love in action this year”. Who knew the tremendous worldwide challenge, loss, heartache, confusion, unity, resilience, and love that the Corona Virus pandemic would force into place.

Standing Together

I know that 2020 has been an immense year of cyclical challenges, but I want to reflect on some of the grace notes that have kept me going and shown just how wonderful human beings can be.

  • The resilience of the NHS and our pride and support of it
  • This renewed concept of shielding, and making sacrificial decisions to keep our loved ones safe
  • The real and encouraging shift that seems to be taking place within our thinking and culture, following the tragic murder of George Floyd and the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement
  • The sense of communities coming together to support and help each other out.

As we look forward to a year that will see the development of a vaccine and our exit from the EU, I hope that our sense of standing together and being kind to our neighbours is not forgotten.

My Thanks

I want to take this opportunity to thank our long-standing clients who fully embraced the cost of enabling their Helper to have 4 weeks paid leave, who continue to treat their Helper like an extended member of their family, and who remember that far from being an invisible magic fairy, that they too have hopes and dreams.

I want to thank our fabulous cleaning colleagues, our team of Helpers who faithfully and resiliently continue to deliver excellent cleans, exhibiting deep nurturing care for their clients week by week.

I want to thank the office team who have tirelessly worked, worried, planned, adapted, pivoted through the whole of this year, and still continue to help create exceedingly excellent cleaning experiences for everyone in the Just Helpers community.

I know that Christmas may look different for each of us this year. But may you know good health, strong community and be filled with hope as we look forward into next year.

Merry Christmas

Antoinette and the Just Helpers Team

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