Nobody wants to get sick. But when we do, we deserve to be able to take the time that we need to get better. In the UK we have one of the lowest rates of sick pay of any developed country - and it is usually women who pay the price.
Many employers provide sick pay schemes to their employees. But one in three people in the workforce only get either Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), or receive no sick pay at all.
SSP is set at an unlivable £109.40 per week - less than £3 an hour. It is only available from the fourth day that you are ill. And if you earn less than £123 per week (the ‘lower earnings limit’) with your employer then you are not eligible for it.
Women are twice as likely as men to miss out on sick pay
The lower earnings limit means that 1.3 million people miss out on any sick pay at all. That's because they don’t earn enough with their employer to qualify for it. Women are the most likely to miss out, as they are more likely to work in lower paid jobs.
According to new figures from the TUC, 6.5% of women do not earn enough to receive SSP when they are ill, compared to just 2.8% of men.
If the lower earnings limit gets removed, 70% of the people set to benefit are women.
Men are more likely to receive full pay when they are sick
Men are far more likely than women to receive full pay when they are ill (62% compared to 52%).
And 26% of women only receive SSP, compared to 21% of men. That's because men are more likely to have more generous sick pay schemes.
Women face the gender health gap
Research has found a gender health gap in the UK where many women receive poorer healthcare than men. In fact, the UK has the largest gender health gap in the G20.
And it may be harder for many women to take the time needed to rest when sick. Tavistock Relationships’ Hidden Workers report found that for women with caring responsibilities, work does not stop when they get home. The report found that domestic chores took up several more hours a day on top of paid work.
Women deserve Safe Sick Pay
The Safe Sick Pay campaign proposes reforms to the system that ensure everyone is eligible for sick pay, from the first day that they are sick, at a rate that means they can take time off to get better. These reforms are an opportunity to make the world of work fairer for women, by having safe workplaces that help people recover from sickness as quickly as possible.
This report - published with Autonomy - brings together the findings of a year-long project by the Centre for Progressive Change, which surveyed and interviewed 500 cleaners across the UK to report on working conditions in commercial cleaning and to imagine a better future for the sector.
In the Listening Campaign we heard from 520 cleaners using online surveys (209 participants); one-to-one interviews (28 participants); house meetings (85 participants); Facebook forums (37 participants); Issues Workshops (53 participants); and imagination events (108 participants).
The key findings of our report are as follows:
70% of respondents said excessive workloads were a problem. Participants cited underpayment and negative health impacts as the key negative results of excessive workloads.
The experiences described by participants in our research demonstrates that working in the cleaning sectors comes with many risks to both the worker’s physical and mental health. Participants regularly used terms such as ‘backbreaking’ ‘abusive’, ‘inhumane’, ‘painful’ and ‘stressful’ to describe issues such as workloads and shift work.
Despite this, just 21% of the participants in our research reported being allowed to take sick leave. Unsurprisingly, ‘sick pay’ was the issue raised most frequently by participants in our Listening Campaign.
34% of respondents mentioned low pay as a key issue. Many cleaners emphasised that the National Minimum Wage (NMW) is simply not enough to live off, particularly when working volatile shifts, which create significant uncertainty around income. Many other participants mentioned issues of underpayment, wage theft, as well as difficulty utilising the legislative avenues available to challenge employers who refused to pay.
Overall, 32% of cleaners involved in our research raised issues related to bullying, harassment and discrimination. Asked directly if they had been discriminated against, harassed or assaulted at work, 53% of our survey respondents said they had. 22% of English speakers had experienced discrimination, harassment or assault, while 59% of non-English speakers had experienced these issues.
27% of respondents mentioned short, anti-social and split shifts as a key issue in the cleaning sector.
24% of participants in our research were on zero-hour contracts, and 20% mentioned job insecurity as a key concern. These participants emphasised that shift work comes with a host of problems, namely financial insecurity, volatile hours, invisibilization and negative health impacts. Indirect impacts of volatile working patterns included problems accessing rental accommodation and state welfare.
Cleaners in our Imagination Campaign and Issues Workshops came up with a number of pragmatic and intuitive proposals for how employers could help to improve working conditions in the sector:
Employers should raise staff levels. Increasing the number of staff would help to solve problems with both excessive workloads and short, volatile shifts by spreading the work more evenly across a greater number of workers.
Employers should ensure that all cleaners are offered sick pay, regardless of how much they earn, from the first day that they are off sick, and pay sick pay in line with the real Living Wage. If a cleaner is paid less than the real Living Wage then they should be paid sick pay in line with their wages.
Employers should pay the Real Living Wage. This would help to make sure that cleaners can at the very least afford housing, utilities, food and other basic items.
Employers should implement regular auditing of contractors, supervisors and line-managers. Regular staff surveys to gather workers’ views and help firms identify problem areas before they become serious.
Employers and clients should move to a model of daytime cleaning. This would be less disruptive to the worker’s sleep, health and family and social life. It would also mean that cleaning is no longer invisible work, which would have important knock on effects in terms of reducing bullying and abuse.
“So, how many people do you want at your first action?” asked Jonathan Lange, a veteran IAF organiser, “1,000” I said, because I was young and had a lot to prove. “Helps if you know them all,” he replied.
That thousand might not sound like a big number for activists used to turning out other activists on social or mobilising into crisis, but for community organisers that thousand is not a crowd but an organisation - a collective of members (these can be individuals or institutions like a church, a union branch or a school) who democratically decide on their joint campaigns and pay the funds needed for them to pursue it together.
A crowd can be gathered in a moment and dissipate the next, they tend to principally empower the person with the megaphone, and because of their short time horizons they tend to be best for expressing protest and knocking things over. Organisations have deeper roots and so are more persistent, capable of developing complex agendas, negotiating terms, and of building lasting participation among those shut out from public life.
Community organisers build these organisations through one on one conversations - really getting to know people and what they care about, developing and uncovering webs of relationships, and using these interests and connections as a foundation for action.
So as I set out to build Nottingham Citizens - what would become a broad based organisation of 40 something faith groups, unions, schools and more - these one on ones were the tool I had to hand. Sounds like slow work, and it was. Over the 11 months between moving to the city and Nottingham Citizens’ first action I met a thousand people one on one.
We’d done the whole thing by the book, before even these conversations began senior leaders from major civic groups in the city had been meeting for 18 months and together raised £60,000 to fund the organising effort without a single shared campaign agreed - just the promise that together they could be more powerful.
It was now January 2012, I loaded my beaten up blue Citroen and moved to Nottingham away from family and friends to try and build Nottingham Citizens. For the next few years, as austerity bit across the country, I worked as hard as I’ve ever worked trying to apply the rules developed by Saul Alinsky to take a single city and try to make it more just.
Police Crime Commissioners were introduced by the coalition government and first went up for election in 2012. The public response was…lukewarm - with just 15% turning out to vote.
In contrast to that portrait in apathy, one dreary November night in Nottingham over 1,000 people turned out in our first action, to put an agenda they had developed to the candidates for PCC in Nottinghamshire:
- We wanted £100,000 to fund CCTV for the city’s cabs, overwhelmingly driven by members of the Kashmiri community, to deter racist abuse and to protect students from being ripped off
- We wanted receipts introduced for Stop and Account and we wanted action to tackle the disproportionality in use of Stop and Search that hammered the city’s Afro Caribbean community
- We wanted more policing on key bus routes as children were heading to and from school to tackle sexist harassment of school girls
- We wanted someone to sort out the Forest Rec, a park in the middle of the city, to make it safe again
In the end, despite the thousand 1:1s I didn’t know everyone there that evening - but the numbers, the money, the commitments from the candidates to be PCC to act on our agenda were all there; it had been slow, but it was also fast.
Over the next four years Nottingham Citizens would take action again and again, training and turning out thousands of people. There was the time we occupied Tesco in Beeston for a Living Wage, the time we filled the Theatre Royal, the time we broke fast in the Market Square.
And yet, after five years of intense organizing, I left Nottingham knowing that the day I arrived there had been just three foodbanks in the city. The day I left? Twenty three. All the organising I could manage, by the book every step of the way, and the city hadn’t become more just - at best we had just slowed the rate at which things got worse.
I looked back at the time, at the assortment of small wins, and wondered whether all the people, all the participation, had just been a show - a glorified civics program that may have helped us feel better but wasn’t a serious effort at social change. I moved on from Nottingham and to national work and drawing on tools beyond the simple one on one to do it.
Four years later, I went back to Nottingham for the first time, and was blown away by what I found.
We had challenged the police that a Stop & Search disproportionality of 12/1 for black men to white was unacceptable. Back at that first Assembly Bishop Paul Thomas told the candidates about being stopped and searched while trying to get into his own car one night and called for receipts to be introduced for Stop and Account too.
The Police refused, but over coming years and leveraging the pressure we helped create, the Police Crime Commissions Paddy Tipping moved them onto electronic receipts for Stop & Search. With that it became possible to performance manage officers on the basis of their stop rates, disproportionality dropped to 3/1. Today Nottinghamshire has the lowest rates of Stop and Search in the country, and the highest conversion rate from stops into charges brought - proof the power is being used intelligently to tackle criminal behaviour rather than being used to punish and bully whole sections of society.
After a slew of incidents targeting Nottinghams’ Kashmiris we had set up a Commission to understand hate crime in the city and make recommendations to tackle it. I’ll never forget being sat with Mel Jeffs though. from the Nottingham Women’s Centre, asking her to serve as one of our Commissioners and inquiring if she had ever experienced hate crime on the basis of being a lesbian. “I’ve had a bunch of hassle,” she said, pausing, “but I think most of that’s just because I’m a woman.” We sat there in silence a moment, before I asked, “well why isn’t that illegal?”.
Local agencies refused to set up the integrated hate crime services hub as we had proposed, but Nottinghamshire constabulary had become the first in the country to police misogyny as a type of hate crime, and by now a dozen other constabularies have followed suit while the House of Lords voted to make this national policy.
We had worked to help Nottinghamshire Police recruit more candidates from black and asian communities, as at the time the force was 3.4% non-white while our city was 34%. We got to grips with the ins and outs of the recruitment process and found that candidates didn’t apply because they didn’t think they’d have a chance. Meanwhile those responsible for diversity in recruitment said minority candidates were mainly screened at the written application stage, but that few took up the offer of a preparatory course to help them succeed.
Our intervention, where the police guaranteed an interview to minority candidates recruited through our institutions who went through the prep course, bumped the numbers to 3.7%. Again, hardly a result to inspire. Yet, over the following years and in continued partnership with Nottingham Citizens members Notts Police created the UK’s first apprenticeship route into working in the police - and over 50% of those coming through it were from diverse communities. Next year Nottinghamshire will likely become the first police force anywhere in the country to actually reflect the ethnic makeup of the communities they serve.
Any one of those changes is a substantial and potentially nationally significant development - radical, scalable, real. I had been so focused on the specific outcomes of the small, “winnable” campaigns I had been trained to run, that I missed the role of organising in building durable constituencies that create sustained pressure for change and what can come of that over the longer term.
The real success of those years organising in Nottingham were the relationships built between the city’s Afro Caribbean, Kashmiri and LGBTQ+ communities, and the culture of activism that grew in their institutions through repeated cycles of campaigning even from the start of our work. Try getting a cab the night of our first action - nightmare, because 100 black cabs arrived in convoy to make their ask. Need a gospel choir for an event? Afraid you’re out of luck - the four main pentecostal churches had all turned out too.
The success with communities and their institutions was itself underpinned by the development of leaders with the public narratives and capabilities to continue pursuing change over time - and it is to them, and the teams of secondary leaders behind them - which they patiently built through listening, action and evaluation - that any credit for these wins is due.
Leaders like Pastor Clive Foster, now MBE for the incredible work he went on to do to support the Windrush generation. Leaders like Mel Jeffs, whose legacy at the Women’s Centre is likely one day to be national legislation to protect women and girls. Leaders like Sajid Mohammed, who tirelessly turned out the Kashmiri community again and again and again who had shown up at my apartment one night at 2am after his wife and children had suffered a racist assault in Asda. That night Sajid asked me, with tears running down his face, “is it winnable?”. Was it possible to build a just and inclusive city in which he could safely raise his family? “Yes, perhaps,” I replied. What I should have added is “it will be slow, but it will also be fast.”
I want to mention, as a last word, that in the intervening years the context changed dramatically. The murder of George Floyd, the blooming of the Black Lives Matters movement and more. No doubt this broader context also played a role in catalysing some of the changes above.
Sanjiv Lingayah, a friend and profound voice on race in Britain today (check out https://www.reframingrace.org) describes us as living in an "abolitionist moment", when we are called to explore dismantling systems of oppression as much as reform them.
Community organisers often see their work like eating an elephant, take a mouthful at a time and build the power needed to finish in the process. I personally believe that a healthy movement ecology needs both: realistic Radicals prepared to compromise driving day to day progress and building power, and, prophetic voices whose searing critique helps see the full extent of the injustices we need to overturn and whose vision can anchor whole new paradigms at moments of great transformation.
This piece is intended principally as a reflection on the power of community organising and the way it delivers change - rather than as an argument for how racial justice can best be realised - but it's important still both to recognise the role of this broader context, and situate the reflection within it. In future pieces I hope to explore how organising can scale into crisis, which is a further part of this picture.">
Only one in five (21%) of cleaners are allowed to take sick days which suggests that a very large majority of cleaners are being pushed to continue working while unwell.
There were many stories of cleaners being forced by their employer to choose between going into work ill or injured or not being paid. One cleaner, said:
“They told us that if we got ill they weren’t going to pay us, or they were going to sack us.”
There are various reasons why cleaners are refused sick pay. These include; employers refusing to grant sick pay, part-time contracts, agency and self-employment not including sick pay as a benefit and not meeting the ‘Lower Earnings Limit’ (currently £123 a week) required to claim statutory sick pay which has to be met through a single employer, even if cleaners earn more than this.
As a result, cleaners are often forced to work while sick and they repeatedly described circumstances that pushed them to work when they were unwell. 35% of cleaners reported turning up for work when sick.
The Safe Sick Pay Campaign, coordinated by the Centre for Progressive Change, is calling for an increase to statutory sick pay rates, to make it available to all workers by removing the lower earnings limit, and removing the waiting period which currently means workers can only access it from day four of sickness.
The Conservative Government consulted on sick pay reforms in 2019 but has not yet implemented sick pay reforms. The Labour party has yet to clarify if it will back a higher weekly sick pay amount after key changes were made at the National Policy Forum, but has backed day one sick pay and removing the lower earnings limit in its New Deal for Working People.
Under the UK’s statutory sick pay system (SSP), the legal minimum that employers must pay their employees is a flat rate payment (not-tethered to an individual’s earnings) which currently stands at £109.40. This is among the lowest rates in Europe and the UK also has one of the shortest durations of payments in Europe of only 28 weeks.
Sofia Torres, a board member of the Centre for Progressive Change and a former cleaner said:
"I used to clean the Shard, one of the tallest office blocks in London. I was one of the unseen army of cleaners, keeping the building clean and tidy for the thousands of workers. When I suffered a back injury and had to take time off sick I got no sick pay from my employer, so I had to return to work before I was ready."
Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy, said:
“The UK has one of the least generous sick pay systems in the industrialised world.
“Millions of workers across the country are missing out on sick pay and this is making the workplace unsafe for everyone.”
Amanda Walters, Director of the Safe Sick Pay Campaign, said:
“The cleaning industry is in need of a clean up, despite their back breaking work, the vast majority of cleaners across the country aren't entitled to basic rights at work such as sick pay.
“When cleaners go back to work sick, they end up making more people ill. This hurts employers and our wider economy.”
Read the full report here.
This is fantastic news, as it represents the three key demands the Safe Sick Pay campaign has been calling for. Getting this on the Labour agenda is a big win for all of the organisations and individuals that have fought hard for sick pay reform. Please retweet us here.
But we can’t rest easy - it is not yet clear for example what either party's policy position will be on the total rate of income replacement, to replace the currently inadequate rate of just £109 per week Statutory Sick Pay.
The current Conservative Government has not yet backed these reforms but there is positive support from a range of Conservative Parliamentary champions. We have recently met Treasury advisers on the subject of sick pay and submitted a policy briefing.
We need to ensure that sick pay reforms happen as soon as possible, to ensure that no worker is left ill, under huge financial pressure and facing impossible choices because of an inadequate sick pay regime that further punishes the lowest paid workers in our society. To that end, the Safe Sick Pay campaign will keep pushing for these vital reforms. If you’d like to be involved please get in touch.">
Let’s fix the UK’s broken sick pay system
Dear Secretary of State
We welcome the Government's efforts to create a strong and thriving economy in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and cost-of-living crisis. Good work improves health and wellbeing across people's lives and protects against social exclusion.
But without a healthy workforce who are supported when they get ill, it will be difficult to achieve the aims of the recent Back to Work budget. Nearly two million people like cleaners, carers and parents juggling childcare, or multiple jobs, are slipping through the cracks and get no sick pay at all.
An estimated 6 million people get just £109 a week in statutory sick pay, and lose three days’ pay if ill. Workers are encouraged to either leave employment or go back to work before they are fully better. The strain of coping with illness coupled with the financial hit can also exacerbate mental health problems and can tip people into a mental health crisis. The result is widening health inequalities.
An increasing number of people in the UK population are living with multiple long-term conditions, such as chronic pain, diabetes or mental health problems. Sick pay should play a role in supporting people with MLTCs to take time away from work when they need it. Fixing the UK’s broken sick pay system would improve the chances of disabled people and those with long-term health conditions to stay in work. This would protect our NHS and benefit the wider economy. Ultimately, it would save lives.
Our sick pay system lags behind the rest of Europe. To come into line with international standards, It would benefit from the following reforms:
- Abolishing the earnings threshold for Statutory Sick Pay
- Making Statutory Sick Pay payable from the first day of sickness
- Increasing Statutory Sick Pay to be in line with a worker’s wages up to the real living wage
- Developing a flexible model for Statutory Sick Pay which allows for a phased return to work and income protection for workers
Enacting these reforms would safeguard the health of workers and the wider population and help people lead happy, healthy productive working lives for longer, a shared goal for all of us. It would also benefit the wider economy.
We welcome the opportunity to work with you and the respective teams in the Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Work and Pensions to make the necessary reforms a reality.
Amanda Walters, Director, Safe Sick Pay campaign
Andy Bell, CEO, Centre for Mental Health
Barbara Reichwein, Programme Director, Impact on Urban Health
Conor D'Arcy, Interim CEO, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum
Dr Jim McManus, President of the Association of Directors of Public Health.
Jo Bibby, Director of Health at the Health Foundation
Mark Hodgkinson, Chief Executive, Scope
Mark Koziol, Chairman, Pharmacists’ Defence Association
Rachel Kirby-Rider, Chief Executive, Young Lives vs Cancer
Dr Ruth Owen OBE, CEO, Leonard Cheshire Disability
Dr Sarah Hughes, CEO, MIND">
- The UK would benefit from a boost of up to £4.1 billion if every worker relying on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) received a higher rate of employer sick pay from day one. 
- Workers on SSP receive as little as £1.10 an hour in the first week and less than £3 an hour thereafter. One in three workers on sick pay are living in poverty.
- MPs, health experts and business leaders call on the Government to take actions on sick pay findings to ‘safeguard the future health and prosperity of our nation’ amidst worsening UK workforce health.
A report released today by WPI Economics, commissioned by the Centre for Progressive Change, finds that reforming sick pay could reduce sickness absence, presenteeism and the number of people on long-term benefits as well as boosting productivity.
The research estimates business costs of three potential reforms of the Sick Pay System.
- Day one sick pay. This would remove the waiting days requirement, so that people can claim SSP from the first day of sickness absence;
- Removing the lower earnings threshold, so that people can claim SSP regardless of the level of their earnings; and
- Increasing the rate of SSP. The report provides a range of scenarios including paying the real Living Wage, the National Living Wage (NLW) and 75% of the NLW.
The positive effects of sick pay reform would particularly benefit the increasing proportion of the UK workforce managing long-term conditions and ensure fewer workers fall out of the job market entirely. The evidence found that the direct costs of increasing sick pay were outweighed by the benefits, which include increased productivity, fewer periods of prolonged absence due to exacerbating existing conditions and better public health outcomes, because people are not spreading illness by coming into work sick.
Overall benefits to business slightly outweighed business costs, whilst the gains to Government and the wider economy were larger thanks to positive outcomes associated with reducing the benefits bill, and boosting labour supply. Broader benefits including the potential to reduce NHS costs would raise these benefits further. The research looked at each measure proposed and based the analysis on a conservative assessment of the wider evidence base.
The report recommended, in line with the policy practices of other advanced economies, that some of the direct costs accrued to businesses could be reduced by the Government sharing some of the gains through a form of business rebate for smaller employers.
The wider evidence base on positive outcomes finds that:
- Generous paid sick leave policies are shown to decrease influenza-like illness rates by as much as 23.5% in the population.
- Access to paid sick leave greatly increases the odds that a sick employee will come back to work once they recover, with one study of cancer patients finding they were three times more likely to return to work with adequate sick leave.
- Workers with access to paid sick leave were found to be 28% less likely to be injured than those without it, resulting in reduced costs to the NHS.
Matthew Oakley, Director of WPI Economics said “The UK’s sick pay system is just not working. This evidence shows that reforms would be a win for workers, businesses and Government alike. Even with a conservative approach to estimating the benefits of policy change, we found that these significantly outweigh the short-term costs.”
Sir Robert Buckland, MP for South Swindon said: “Improving workers' sick pay is a win-win policy for Rishi Sunak, supporting hard-working people and boosting our post-pandemic economic recovery. The Government should act now on this welcome evidence in order to safeguard the future health and prosperity of our nation.”
Amanda Walters, Director of the Safe Sick Pay Campaign said: “Making sick pay available for everyone from the first day of illness should be a minimum guarantee if we want a healthy, productive workforce. We are asking the Government to act now on this important reform and ensure that hard working people get the support they need to rest, recover and return to work.”
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The pandemic underlined how sick pay needs a total overhaul. Those earning the least often don’t qualify, or they face such a huge drop in wages they could risk working when they shouldn’t. Anyone who’s ill should be given sick pay from the first day. That way, those on poverty wages, such as care workers, won’t go into work when it’s not safe because they’re worried about their bills.”
John Godfrey, Director of Levelling Up, Legal and General Group, which is in the process of implementing sick pay changes across its investment and property businesses said: “Improving the health of the UK workforce means tackling the social determinants of health, like housing, access to education, and, crucially, good quality employment, because there is an undeniable relationship between work and health. The benefits of the whole economy engaging in achieving better health outcomes are clear; if businesses, investors, and policymakers play their part, we will see lasting, tangible improvements across society and the economy.”
The Safe Sick Pay campaign has called for measures to be brought forward in the forthcoming Autumn Statement, pointing to some of the horrific experiences of some workers affected by the current regime including one cancer patient who was left without sufficient income to pay the rent as he went through his treatment.
Dan, a cancer patient and former assistant manager at a supermarket said: “A lack of adequate sick pay was a factor in my subsequent mental health problems and decision to quit my job and take a prolonged period out of work to recover.”">
The report, Safe Sick Pay: the Case for Change, is being published to mark the launch of the new campaign, and brings together the extensive literature on the need for sick pay reform, based on research by charities, trade unions and the private sector. It also makes the economic case for a better sick pay system that will ensure workers can stay at home to recover, and prevent the spread of illness in workplaces.
Finally, it sets out the three key changes the Safe Sick Pay Campaign is calling for – alongside a range of partners – to create a Safe Sick Pay system that will benefit millions across the UK.
Amanda Walters, Campaign Director of the Safe Sick Pay Campaign, said:
“Whatever work we do, we deserve to know a safe sick pay system is there so that if we get unwell, we can take the time we need to get better.
“For millions of workers – particularly those on low pay and in precarious work such as cleaners and carers – that simply does not exist, and they face having to work through illness, or take time off they cannot afford.
“The Government must urgently fix this broken system to protect workers’ wellbeing, and ensure that everyone can access safe sick pay.”
For more information or to arrange an interview, contact the press office on 07932700515 or [email protected]
Notes to editors:
- The full report is available here.
The Centre for Progressive Change (CPC) is launching a new project aimed at bringing 500 cleaners together to build a shared vision and strategy for a better industry.
A series of workshops, beginning in August, will be hosted in at least four languages, in which cleaners will be asked how they would improve the cleaning industry to build better conditions and more secure livelihoods for cleaners.
The project builds on the large-scale listening campaign already carried out as part of #CleanersUnited. These workshops aim to generate deeper understanding of all of the key issues affecting cleaners in the UK, and how they can be improved.
Following the imagination workshops, the project aims to coordinate stakeholder discussions between cleaners, organisations representing cleaners, campaigners and policy experts from think tanks and unions.
The project aims to create a shared vision and a plan to effect the change required to make this a reality.
Amanda Walters, Director of the Centre for Progressive Change, said: “Whatever work we do, we want to be treated fairly and with respect, but cleaners face some of the worst working conditions of any worker in the UK - from low pay, to no sick pay, to bullying and harassment.
“There is already a broad coalition of organisations representing and advocating for cleaners from many backgrounds. We want to bring the diverse perspectives in this sector together around a shared vision - and a plan to make that a reality.
“Together, we can create real and systemic change towards better and fairer conditions for all cleaners in the UK.”
Cleaners United is an alliance of trade unions and community organisations building a national campaign to improve the working conditions of cleaners in the UK.
During the first stage of the campaign, the Centre for Progressive Change brought together over 350 cleaners to discuss the industry and their experience of it. The imagination workshops build on that work, with a view to creating a plan for systemic change for a better industry.
For more information or to arrange an interview, contact the press office on [email protected]
Who gets Statutory Sick Pay?
- A third of workers only get Statutory Sick Pay. They are mainly on low incomes, and often in precarious work. They are more likely to be women, people of colour and from migrant backgrounds.
What about everyone else?
- Around half of employers have their own policies, under which they top up Statutory Sick Pay, usually to your ordinary wages, at least for a while. Nearly two million workers get no sick pay at all, because they don’t earn over £120 per week with any one employer, though many have multiple employers.
How did we get here?
- Statutory Sick Pay was introduced in 1982, but hasn’t kept up with changes to how we work and live. Today, it's nowhere near enough to cover the cost of living.
What happens in other countries?
- The UK has one of the lowest rates of Statutory Sick Pay of any wealthy economy. Elsewhere, particularly in Europe, sick pay is more often in line with earnings, and available from day one of illness.
What happened during the pandemic?
- The pandemic shone a light on the holes in the sick pay system, and the Government accepted Statutory Sick Pay doesn't work. They scrapped the four-day wait, so everyone could get sick pay from the first day of illness, and created a one-off payment of £500 for low-income workers who needed to isolate. These reforms have been scrapped.
How much would it cost to fix it?
- It would cost an average of £130 per year per employee. This could be a significant cost for small businesses, but the Federation of Small Businesses and CBI have both called for this change. The Government could also make it possible for some businesses to claim sick pay back, as it did during the early stages of the pandemic.
What you can do:
We’re preparing to launch our campaign for better sick pay. Sign up here for updates on how you can get involved.">
What we’re calling for:
- Higher Statutory Sick Pay, in line with living costs, and the living wage.
- An end to the four-day wait, so everyone can get it from day one of being unwell.
- Abolition of the earnings threshold, so all workers are entitled to sick pay.
What you can do:
We’ll be launching the campaign soon. Sign up here to stay up to date with campaign news and how you can help bring about better sick pay for everyone.">
After the letter was sent, the workers met again to evaluate and decide next steps. We looked at the charts to identify who hadn’t signed the letter, why and who else we needed to speak to, to fill in the gaps. We agreed that we needed to keep up the pressure until the decision on the third runway had been made. Over the next months we carried on doing structure tests and asking our allies to act.
We met with the airport early December. At that meeting the airport announced they would sign up to become a Living Wage employer! They agreed to giving a pay rise to over 3,200 subcontracted staff, including some pay rises of almost £3 an hour. This was a huge shift from the previous meetings with the airport as workers were beginning to pose a real threat to the airports self-interest to gain the third runway. In a few months we had made far greater gains that in the previous years because we stopped taking shortcuts and focused on deep organising and building the power of the workers.">
The mood in Trafalgar square was ominous as we waited for the results of the vote on whether the government were going to rise university tuition fees from £3,000 a year to £9,000 a year. Everyone in the square was cold, tired and hungry. Some people were building fires, some were trying to break into the Treasury, while thousands of others were standing around waiting impatiently for the results.
The last 6 months prior to this point had been relentless. For me, as the Campaigns Officer at the University of Manchester Students’ Union, every waking moment in those months I spent engaging students in Manchester and moving them into action. We marched in Manchester and in London, we occupied the University, we took direct action… we mobilised thousands of students to act. We did everything we could… right?
I suddenly heard a murmur ripple through the square, across the thousands of students kettled there. I took out my phone and saw the headline. We had lost. My heart sunk. And I thought to myself, all that work and dedication amounted to nothing. I cried the whole way home. I locked myself in my room and questioned everything I’d ever believed. Can we actually create change? Is there a way to actually win progressive campaigns? Because so far in my lifetime, I’d not seen that we could.
This question lead me on a quest to find out the answer, and to start exploring who is actually winning progressive campaigns, and how are they doing it. And that is how I came across Organising.
The Solution: Organising
Organising is where you bring a wide range of people and organisations from a community or workplace together to build a unified body. By coming together in this way that community or workplace then has enough weight behind it in order to challenge politicians and companies to act on the issues impacting that community. I’m sure many of us have experienced how difficult it is to get listened to when you are the only one person speaking up, or you are just a few people. In Organising you bring together hundreds or thousands of people together so that you cannot be ignored, and you can further your collective agenda.
There are 3 key differences between Organising and the campaign we did as students in 2010.
1. Build a broad coalition
In Organising you want to build broad coalitions, rather than mobilise just one facet of the population such as students. You do this so that you can have more strength. The more diverse your coalition is the more likely it is that politicians will care about what you have to say. And they are less able to box you in as one interest group among others. This way they can also not pit you against each other.
2. Research the interests of your opponent
Knowing your opponent’s interests and Achilles’ heel is key to Organising. Once you have done enough desk based and on the ground research then the actions you do should be aimed at using this knowledge to your advantage. For instance, in 2010 it would have strengthened our hand to have a real understanding of the interests of those in government so that we could focus our actions on trying to become a threat to this.
3. Be strategic
By doing a Power Analysis of the fight you are in, and what you need to do in order to win and shift the power balance, you can form your strategy and decide on specific tactics that will get you to where you want to be. We often decide to take particular actions, like marching or occupying a University, because it is familiar and what we know. In Organising, on the other hand, what we are interested in is what actions will be effective.
I don’t know for sure that having used an Organising model in 2010 would have led to a win. But what I do know is that since I became an Organiser in 2013 I finally started winning campaigns and have seen that you can create change, and that by using this methodology you can win progressive campaigns.">