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services, processing and plant operatives, and elementary occupations. These figures are particularly striking when compared with the much lower proportion of British born Londoners in these jobs (24.8%). Specific migrant groups also concentrate in particular occupations at the bottom end of the labour market. For example, 40.5% of working age people born in Slovakia now living in London work in personal service occupations (as nursery nurses, housekeepers and care assistants) and 23.2% of people from Ghana and 38.9% of people from Ecuador are found in elementary occupations (many working as cleaners) (ibid.).

The British media often paint a very negative picture of London’s migrants, constructing them as ‘benefit scroungers’. The reality couldn’t be more different. Migrants take on the jobs that keep London ‘working’. Crucially, despite having to pay tax and National Insurance, many are in fact ineligible for Income Support or Unemployment Benefit. Nor are they always able to claim the ‘top up’ benefits designed to supplement the wages of low paid workers and ‘make work pay’ (for example, Working Tax Credits).

In a bid to improve the pay and conditions of London’s low paid, including migrant workers, the East London Communities Organisation (now part of London Citizens) launched its Living Wage Campaign in 2001. The campaign has secured major improvements in the terms and conditions of contracted workers employed at a number of East London hospitals and some financial companies in Canary Wharf. The campaign has involved the unionisation of more than a thousand low paid workers, the identification and development of new leaders, and increased the political profile of this neglected group (see Wills, 2004). Responding to the campaign, the Mayor of London has recently set up a Living Wage Unit at the Greater London Authority. Recognising the very high cost of living in London, the Unit has called for the introduction of a ‘Living Wage’ of £6.70 an hour: some way above the National Minimum Wage of £5.05 (GLA, 2005). The GLA estimates that 1 in 5 workers (400,000 full-time and 300,000 part-time workers) in the capital continue to earn less than the Living Wage (GLA, 2005).

The research discussed here was conceived by London Citizens as part of their Living Wage Campaign but was designed and managed by the Global Cities at Work research team at Queen Mary, University of London. A questionnaire survey was used to explore the pay and conditions, background and experiences of 341 low paid workers in four sectors that are vital to the functioning of the London economy and known to employ high numbers of low paid workers: contract cleaning; hospitality and catering; home care; and the food processing industry (see Appendix 1). As a result of the research, London Citizens is now endeavouring to extend its Living Wage Campaign and improve the pay and conditions of at least some of the workers whose experiences are outlined in this report.

The report is organised in three parts. After describing our methodology in the rest of Section 1, we go on to outline the key findings of the questionnaire survey, reporting on the experiences of all 341 workers. In Section 3 we offer more detailed profiles of work in three sectors: contract cleaning (divided between those cleaning London’s offices, and those cleaning London’s Underground); hospitality; and home care.


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