Why does Just Helpers pay the London Living Wage, and why is it so central to what we do? In Living Wage Week, Antoinette Daniel, Founder of Living Wage Employer Just Helpers reflects on what it means to her and her team.
Putting the "Just" in Just Helpers
For me, the desire to do the right thing came first - even before the cleaning. I had left my job as a secondary school teacher in 2013 to focus on campaigning to end the exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers. While I did this work, I needed to support myself, so I started cleaning. I've always loved cleaning, so it was a natural choice.
Then I realised that this was an opportunity to combine my two passions -and Just Helpers was born. With Just Helpers, I wanted to create a cleaning agency that delivered decent working conditions, and a fair day's pay for a fair day's work - so paying the London Living Wage was fundamental from the beginning.
Since then, we've grown and we now have over 50 Helpers (they are more than cleaners!) working across London in homes and businesses. Plus, we have an office team of 6, some of whom started out as Helpers and who we have supported to achieve their potential through training and mentoring.
Surviving the Pandemic
Along with many other businesses, for Just Helpers this last 18 months has been the toughest yet. Our first priority was the safety of our Helpers and our clients, and there was a time when I didn't know if the business would be able to survive.
However, we put in place specialist training for all our Helpers, as well as protective equipment, and that meant we were able to keep delivering our cleaning services. We are so grateful for the loyalty shown to us by so many of our clients during this difficult time.
Now as life gets back to normal, we all need to ensure that we don't forget the lessons we learned during the past 18 months. As we all stood and clapped on our doorsteps, there was a real shift in the country. Alongside the gratitude we all felt for our health professionals, people recognised how crucial jobs such as cleaners and carers are to our communities - and these jobs are often the lowest paid.
I want to see this shift in attitude become the catalyst for the big changes needed in the cleaning sector. It's time for our industry to clean up its act - starting with paying the Living Wage.
Why the Living Wage
We are proud to pay the Living Wage, and it has so many benefits to us as a business.
- Because we pay fairly, our Helpers stay with us for longer - which means less recruitment and training costs.
- Better retention of Helpers means better continuity for our clients
- Our Helpers enjoy a better work-life balance, with time to spend with family, and friends instead of juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet
- Our clients choose us because they want a cleaning service which fits with their values.
In a crowded market, we stand out because we are different. But we don't want it to stay that way. We would love other cleaning businesses, in London and across the country, to join us in paying the Living Wage.
Ready for Change
A 2020 report from our ethical cleaning running mate Clean for Good estimated that 60% of workers in the cleaning industry were earning less than the Living Wage. As a low margin industry which is still subject to high tax burden of 20% VAT, it is easy to see why illegal practices such as "cash in hand" are all too common in the cleaning sector. For the Living Wage to become the new norm, we need to see a change in taxation and employment law to make it easier for businesses like ours that want to pay their workers fairly.
With the support of the Living Wage Foundation, we are proof that it is possible for a cleaning business to be professional, profitable AND do the right thing. But to bring about a bigger change we need support from government and our wider industry. Will you join us?