It is the kind of access even the most ambitious lobbyist could only dream of: how do you get your message to the top of a Cabinet minister’s in-tray?
Cleaners desperate for a pay rise left a note making their case on the Whitehall desk occupied during the day by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary.
The 64 signatories told the minister – who has been charged with designing policies to ensure that work pays – that they were struggling to survive on the miserly wages they received for cleaning his offices.
Seven months later, they are celebrating a remarkable victory for people power after being told their pay is to leap by up to 38 per cent when the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) became the first ministry to commit to paying the London Living Wage.
The move will bring the hourly earnings of 500 DWP cleaners and catering staff from the national minimum wage of £6.19 or just above on to the London Living Wage of £8.55. Now campaigners are to press other government departments to follow suit.
Joan (not her real name), a cleaning supervisor from east London, whose pay will rise from £6.50 to £8.55 an hour, was among a group of workers who were invited to meet Mr Duncan Smith after their message had been discovered.
“I was absolutely over the moon when I found out the news. Our prayers have been answered,” she said. “It will make a huge difference to me – I won’t have to work so many hours in future. I will be able to spend more time with my grandchildren and take them out like a normal grandma.”
She said: “The cleaners work so hard and get so tired. But without them the offices wouldn’t get cleaned.”
The change of heart came after a campaign led by the cleaners and organised by the charity Citizens UK. The extra money will be paid by the facilities company that employs them and not from the department.
Samuel Atoki , a cleaner, said: “I take an hour and a half to get to work on two buses. The living wage will allow me to get the train to work which will save me time and allow me to spend more time with my family.”
A DWP spokesman said: “Our suppliers have agreed to pay the London living wage to their DWP cleaners and caterers working in London by April 2014. Ministers strongly believe work should always pay and very much welcome this news.”
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, whose staff earn at least the living wage, said: “As the season of goodwill approaches, this is the perfect time for even more employers to sign up to a pay deal that leads to a better motivated and more dedicated workforce.”