Home / Blog / Sue Gray report shows lack of respect in government for cleaning staff

Sue Gray report shows lack of respect in government for cleaning staff

Blog from Jim Melvin, Chairman British Cleaning Council

The recent shocking findings of the Sue Gray report into Downing Street parties showed that we still have some way to go until we achieve the recognition the cleaning sector and staff deserve – particularly, it would seem, within Government.

In the report, Sue Gray wrote: “I found that some staff had witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly.

“I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable.”

It is absolutely appalling to hear that cleaning staff were being treated with such contempt by people who sit within Government.

Our cleaning and hygiene teams are hardworking, professional and deserve to be respected in their vital work, and certainly how the people concerned would expect to be treated.

What made matters worse was that this happened during the COVID pandemic, when cleaning and hygiene staff were on the frontline in the fight against the virus and putting themselves at risk to maintain high standards of hygiene and to ensure that key workers and the public were safe and well during the pandemic.

Throughout the cleaning industry, the demand for increased standards of hygiene during the pandemic has combined with severe staff shortages to drive many colleagues close to burn out.

When cleaning staff needed and deserved support and recognition from the Government, they were treated with a dismissive arrogance which is also a cultural concern to be acknowledged and resolved.

The Prime Minister has said he was “shocked” at the findings of the report and it was a “disgrace” for staff to be treated in that way. However, the Prime Minister who also thanked cleaning staff in Parliament during the pandemic itself should not simply “expect those responsible to apologise” and make sure that they individually and collectively do so!

I think this incident casts new light on the BCC’s long-running campaign for recognition for cleaning and hygiene staff.

Over the course of the pandemic, there was more public understanding of the vital role of cleaning staff and I saw myself how many clients became more compassionate to their cleaning staff.

But after hearing of the contemptible arrogance recorded by the Sue Gray report, it is clear that not everyone respects and values the work of the cleaning and hygiene sector. The social acceptance and cultural issue with cleaning staff also sees us being dismissed incorrectly as low skilled by The Home Office.

Despite lobbying from us, immigration rules which changed last year classified staff as low skilled, making it much harder for us to recruit overseas staff which added to the severe staff shortages the sector faces now.

We have people leaving the country and not being replaced, unless of course it is for fruit picking, poultry and truck driving.

To be clear, the Government were correct to make such exceptions but why not also include hygiene, especially now as we continue to come out of a global pandemic?

The argument that UK nationals will take these roles is also now redundant as the Government’s own employment figures acknowledge there are more vacancies than people!

Sadly, because we are not able or allowed to fill these vacancies, not only are the Government losing out on funding from tax and NIC, but there is arguably harm both to the economy and the Government’s aims in getting people back into the workplace with confidence in the cleanliness and hygiene around them.

Our industry is vital in returning to normality safely and hygienically, as well as helping to stop any future variant or pandemic.

Shortly after the Sue Gray report came out, I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case, to formally ask for a meeting to review the content and the steps that have been taken since.

We have had a reply advising that we will shortly receive a response. We have subsequently politely replied as we did not ask for a response and requested a meeting instead, which is important given the huge increase in media attention around the treatment of cleaning staff in Downing Street.

I hope and expect that there will be a response and that we will finally start the process of informing the Government about the true worth of the cleaning and hygiene sector and its staff.

About Sarah OBeirne

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *