Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

UK Experiences Shortage Cleaners in Wake of Covid Pandemic

In the wake of the Covid pandemic, the UK’s cleaning industry is facing severe shortages.

The British Cleaning Council (BCC) is sounding the alarm. Of the 11 firms surveyed, two saw vacancies increase by over 250% in the last 6 months. In total the 11 firms observed saw total vacancies of 1,917 over that same period.

The predominant factor for such shortages was an exodus of foreign nationals. The UK cleaning industry, more so than any other, is highly reliant on foreign talent. 

“Returning to their home countries or moving to alternate industries like truck driving and hospitality has exacerbated the shortfall,” explains London cleaning specialist, Serna FM.

The BCC had raised concern about immigration driving cleaning shortages, over 2 years ago. Planned changes to immigration rules have seriously hampered access to overseas workers and the UK cleaning industry is struggling to replace them. 

Jim Melvin, chairman of the BCC and also Group CEO at major cleaning contractor, The Exclusive Services Group griped that never in his entire career has it been so challenging to recruit cleaning and hygiene staff. He stated that the industry is locked in difficulty with the triple threat of the Immigration Act, Brexit and the Covid Pandemic.

The state of affairs he argues is near unprecedented. He argues, “many foreign workers have now left and we can’t replace them with UK nationals, who traditionally have not joined the industry.”

“Other staff are leaving for alternative jobs, such as driving HGVs or within other sectors that are actually receiving Government assistance. In the meantime, we are facing severe problems.”

 “If this continues, it could affect the UK’s ability to fight this virus, and possibly any other, and in doing so there is clear potential for the health and safety of members of the public to be put at risk.

Vacancy Rates for Cleaning Jobs at Historic Highs 

Of the 11 firms surveyed by the BCC the vacancy rate was ~8%. Two firms however painted an even more troubling picture, showing vacancy rates of 12% and 16.8%. One of the companies exclaimed that they had almost 100 resignations in the last 6 months alone.  

According to 2019 Labour Force Survey statistics almost 40% of the cleaning industry were made up of foreign nationals. In London, the statistics are even more startling with over 60% of all employees in the cleaning and hygiene industry coming from overseas.

In late 2021 Immigration rules have changed, categorising cleaning staff as being low skill workers. This change of classification has made it far more difficult for UK cleaning and hygiene companies to recruit the staff they so desperately need.

BBC deputy chair and National Lead for Education and Training at the Association of Healthcare and Cleaning Professionals (AHCP) Delia Cannings has also reiterated how the severe shortage of cleaning staff has affected the healthcare industry.

Echoing Jim Melvin’s concerns, she said: “We have seen a mass exodus of cleaning staff across the NHS and the labour pool is diminishing at an alarming rate. The loss of cleaning personnel can be attributed to Brexit, immigration regulations and the pandemic, each contributing to the shortages in a daunting way.

“The national cry for HGV drivers and the attractive training packages and subsidies available has seen many cleaning operatives jump into this new opportunity.  We are heading for disaster as a limited pool of agency staff, many without training, are sent into our hospitals to replace the leavers and provide an NHS cleaning service.

She feels the Government must recognise cleaning and hygiene staff as skilled workers. Without this change and the government’s support she feels the industry will suffer recruitment shortages for the long. A true detriment to the UK’s healthcare industry.