15 October 2023

At a glance:

This report 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


Josie Hooker – Associate Researcher and Organiser for the Centre for Progressive Change

Philip Jones

Jack Kellam

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.”



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.”



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.”