I founded Just Helpers after seeing first hand the exploitation which migrant workers – and particularly women – were experiencing in our cities. I wanted to offer an alternative – a cleaning business which paid fairly, offered decent working conditions and developed potential in our people.
I’m proud of what Just Helpers has achieved. But if we are to see meaningful change in the cleaning industry, we need to address the real cost of cleaning. We need to tackle some fundamental issues, nationally. And we can’t do that alone.
A Clean Conscience?
The report states that the Low Pay Commission estimate 1 in 5 cleaners in the UK who were entitled to the Minimum Wage were actually being paid less than this by their employer. Remember – the Minimum wage is widely recognised to be a poverty wage, which means that someone working full time being paid the Minimum Wage would still be living in poverty.
The Clean For Good report urged businesses who are outsourcing cleaning, to ensure that their cleaning provider shares their values. “Too many employers don’t just outsource a service, they unwittingly outsource their values and responsibilities too.”
The Challenges we Face
We share the vision expressed in the Clean For Good report. However, while Clean For Good focus on providing commercial cleaning, at Just Helpers, we want to provide domestic cleaning to ethically minded individuals in their own homes.
But, we face some big challenges.
Price – The Real Cost of Cleaning
We pass as much of the cleaning charge as possible on to our Helpers. All of our Helpers receive the London Living Wage.
However, we also need to keep our charges as low as we can so we remain affordable to our clients.
The challenge is to pay our Helpers a decent wage, while remaining competitive in a crowded cleaning market.
We want to highlight the real cost of domestic cleaning. That’s not just about the amount your cleaner is paid. It’s also about the cost to their health and well-being of low wages, and uncertain income.
We want to reveal the cleaning industry’s dirty secret of exploitation, low wages and poor working conditions. And, we want to offer an ethical, quality, affordable alternative to people who want a clean home and a clean conscience.
Survival – A Profitable Business
Since April 2020 the domestic side of our business has been profitable for the first time. This is as a result of some changes we made to our contracts. We increased our rates, and we now require our clients to pay for their cleaning, even if they cancel.
This is important so that our business can survive tough economic times and continue to offer decent, predictable pay to our Helpers, and a quality, reliable service to our clients.
Taxation -An Unfair Burden
We believe that low margin industries like ours should sit within a lower VAT bracket.
Currently, cleaning services are subject to 20% VAT. This high tax burden encourages illegal practices such as “cash in hand”.
In the current COVID-19 climate, some industries such as hospitality have been moved into a lower VAT bracket to help them survive.
We would like to see the cleaning industry moved into the 5% VAT bracket, permanently. This would lead to better regulation, better working conditions and ultimately more money being paid by our industry in taxation.
Changes to Employment Law
The “gig economy” has been the subject of much criticism recently. However, the fact remains that some workers want the flexibility that being self-employed offers. Plus, the additional costs of being an employer, and the risks associated with uncertain income, mean that we, like many cleaning businesses, cannot afford to directly employ our Helpers.
We need changes to employment law to protect workers and protect businesses, so that direct employment becomes viable.
Sharing the Challenge
My passion is for people, and for tackling injustice and doing the right thing.
But these challenges are too big for me to tackle alone. I need people with the know-how to navigate these issues, so that we can achieve change for the cleaning industry at national level.
Will you join me? Get involved – join our End Exploitation Facebook Group and share your energy, experience and expertise to help us.