Category Archives: Care

Don’t forget the nanny this Christmas

With the post this morning a catalogue from The White Company came through my door.

Christmas Catalgue

I started to flick through it while waiting for the kettle to boil and saw a guide to gifts you might want to give to special people in your life.  Alongside the suggestions for things for sisters-in-law and teenage daughters, I saw that number 5 on the present shopping list was a gift suggestion for ‘my nanny’.

Don't forget a present for nanny!

Don’t forget a present for nanny!

The employment of nannies and other domestic workers has crept back into our culture after a couple of decades of absence.  Moments like this, which make clear the assumption that ‘everyone’ (or at least everyone who can afford to shop with White Company) has a nanny, matter. They are markers in history, where we can see social trends emerging.  Official data on the employment of domestic workers are unhelpful, they miss the people employed off the books and often lump together those doing similar roles in domestic and collective settings, so indicators like this tell us about how society is changing.  I remember the first time I saw a house advertised as having a ‘nanny flat’, rather than the granny flat it would previously have been.  It says so much about the changes in care work and expectations; rather than a household needing space so that they can care for an elderly relative, they now need space for the person who is going to help care for them.

As someone who researches paid domestic work in contemporary Britain I often struggle to convince people of the importance, or relevance, of my work.  To many it seems too niche, a strange thing to be obsessed by in the modern world, perhaps something that happens in Singapore or Saudi Arabia but not in British suburbia.  But each year I see the terrain shifting a little, as slowly the assumption that domestic service was ‘gone for good’, something that had disappeared with coal fires and chamber pots, is replaced with the realisation that it is a growing, through still hidden activity. So the White Company Christmas catalogue is not so much a record of retailing practices as of a significant social change.


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Au pairing: An open door to exploitation?

The research project that I have been working on for just over two years comes to an end this month and this week the key findings from the project are officially ‘launched’ on the Birkbeck website.  There is also a pdf document that can be downloaded from here.  While the funding has finished there will still be many outputs coming out of this project – including an edited collection early next year and a joint authored book in 2016!

 We found that the average au pair in the UK works over 38 hours a week, although some are expected to work for up to 70 hours, with expected duties sometimes including caring for elderly relatives, or helping out in family businesses. Average pay is £108 per week, but 14% of au pairs do not receive the £85 a week recommended by the British Au Pairs Agencies Association.

Au pairing was traditionally supposed to offer young people the opportunity for adventure and cultural exchange, but most hosts interviewed conceded that meeting their childcare needs was their motivation for employing an au pair and many au pairs felt that their hosts were not interested in providing opportunities for cultural exchange. 44% of those advertising for au pairs expected prior experience, and 26% were only considering applicants who are already in the UK, showing that the increasing reliance on au pairs is leading to a decreasing differentiation between au pair and nanny roles. Many au pairs are significantly older than the typical image of someone in their late teens or early 20s, with the economic situation in southern Europe spurring those in their mid-late 20s on to improve their English and ‘wait out the crisis’ or use au pairing as a first step to more permanent migration.

The nationality of the au pair appears to influence how they are treated, with au pairs from western Europe generally working shorter hours and being given more opportunities for study and cultural exchange than those from central and eastern Europe.

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Live-out au pair wanted…

This is another post about an ad that we’ve found for an au pair on Gumtree.  I do sometimes think and rant about other things but ads for au pairs on Gumtree are a pretty rich source of rage for me.

This ad says:

Live- Out Afternoon Au Pair in Finchley N3- start immediately!

Finchley, London

Live-Out afternoon Au Pair in North London (N3)
We are looking for a well orgenised, warm, energetic and responsible person to help us with our children (girl 6 and boy 10) and daily housework in the afternoon Mon- Fri. It will include one evening babysitting a week. Core hours would be 15:00pm – 19:00pm but there is some flexibility about the hours worked.

This is a position for a Live-Out Au Pair available for interview in London UK with good English. We are looking for a person who wants to stay a year or more. We are a happy family of four, living in Finchley, North London close to a lovely park, shops and 8-10 min walk from Finchley Central Tube Station.

Duties will include (around 60% childcare, 40% house work):

– Childcare: prepare healthy meals, bath, play, pick from school and attend activities with them.
– House: Light cleaning, tidying up, laundry, ironing, washing up and assisting in cooking.

We will require:
-A person who enjoys the company of children
-A high degree of flexibility, reliability, independence and responsibility on your behalf;
-excellent cleaning skills- natural ability to organise and attention to detail.

You must have:
– fluent English
– Excellent References
– experience in a similar position (including cleaning)

It will be a great advantage if you speak Czech, Slovak or Hungarian!

We pay £120 per week plus bonuses.
Please reply by email, attaching your CV preferably with a picture. Please do not reply to this ad if you do not fulfill the requirements outlined above.

There are lots of things which are outrageous about this, that most people (but clearly not these hosts) don’t need me to point out.  Living near a lovely park or a tube station does not make it ok to pay people less than minimum wage.  Being a happy family does not make it ok to pay less than minimum wage.  Calling something ‘au pairing’ does not make it something other than real work and, therefore, deserving of less than  minimum wage.  Asking to see photos of someone who is going to do childcare is not ok, it is creepy.  And I should write a whole other post on the idea of ‘natural ability to organise’ as related to cleaning skills.

From the point of view of our study this ad exemplifies two trends that we have identified.  First, without a government definition of au pairing employers are calling all kinds of work ‘au pairing’ and offering wages and conditions outside legal limits (in this case because it is not live in).  Related to this, the deregulation of au pairing has had a downward effect on the pay and conditions of other groups doing childcare.  This ad is really for a part time but highly skilled, multi-lingual nanny/housekeeper but offering much less than a nanny would expect to be paid.  We have noticed a downward trend in the pay and conditions of nannies as much of the work they were previously doing is now being described as ‘au pairing’.

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The complications of ‘hiring a hubby’: New paper on handyman research in New Zealand

My most recent paper on my research project on Handymen and DIY in New Zealand has just been published.

The paper is available at . Or if you’ve got access to Social and Cultural Geography it’s at or contact me for a copy.

The complications of ‘hiring a hubby’: gender relations and the commoditisation of home maintenance in New Zealand

Abstract (in English, French and then Spanish)

This paper examines the commoditisation of traditionally male domestic tasks through interviews with handymen who own franchises in the company ‘Hire A Hubby’ in New Zealand and homeowners who have paid for home repair tasks to be done. Discussions of the commoditisation of traditionally female tasks in the home have revealed the emotional conflicts of paying others to care as well as the exploitative and degrading conditions that often arise when work takes place behind closed doors. By examining the working conditions and relationships involved when traditionally male tasks are paid for, the paper raises important questions about the valuing of reproductive labour and the production of gendered identities. The paper argues that whilst working conditions and rates of pay for ‘hubbies’ are better than those for people undertaking commoditised forms of traditionally female domestic labour, the negotiation of this work is still complex and implicated in gendered relations and identities. Working on the home was described by interviewees as an expression of care for family and a performance of the ‘right’ way to be a ‘Kiwi bloke’ and a father. Paying others to do this labour can imply a failure in a duty of care and in the performance of masculinity.

Cet article examine la banalisation des taches domestiques traditionnellement considérées comme masculines à partir des entretiens avec les «hommes à tout faire »qui sont teneurs de franchise dans l’entreprise «Hire a Hubby »en Nouvelle-Zélande ainsi que les propriétaires qui les ont embauchés. Les discussions de la banalisation des taches traditionnellement considérées comme féminines dans le contexte domestique ont déjà révélé les conflits émotionnels entrainés par le fait de payer les services de soin ainsi que les conditions de travail dégradantes et exploitantes quand le travail est à huis clos. Cet article fait naître les questions importantes au sujet de la valeur du travail reproductif et à la production des identités genrées en examinant les conditions de travail et les rapports personnels impliqués dans le travail traditionnellement masculin payé. Alors que les conditions de travail et les salaires pour les «Hubbies »soient meilleurs que pour ceux qui travaillent dans le monde de travail «féminin », ce travail «masculin »est néanmoins complexe et impliqué dans les relations et les identités genrées. Les personnes interviewées ont décrit les travaux bricoleurs comme des expressions de soin pour la famille ainsi qu’une performance de la «bonne »manière d’être un «gars kiwi [de la Nouvelle-Zélande] »et un père. Le fait de payer aux autres pour faire ces travaux peuvent laisser entendre qu’un homme ne réussit pas à combler ses devoirs et à performer «correctement »la masculinité.

Este articulo se examina la mercantilización de tareas domesticas tradicionalmente hechas por hombres utilizando entrevistas con manitas quienes son dueños de franquicias de la empresa ‘Alquiler un Marido’ en Nueva Zelanda y los propietarios quienes han pagados por hacer tareas de casa. Discusiones de la mercantilización de tareas tradicionalmente hechas por mujeres en el hogar han revelado los conflictos emocionales de pagar otros por cuidar además de las condiciones degradantes que se presentan cuando el trabajo ocurre atrás de puertas cerradas. Examinar las condiciones y relaciones involucrados cuando tareas tradicionalmente hechas por hombres están pagados, este articulo se presenta preguntas importantes sobre la valuación de trabajo reproductivo y la producción de identidades de género. El articulo se discute que mientras las condiciones de trabajo y las tarifas de pago para los ‘maridos’ están mejores que las para gente que emprenden trabajos domésticos tradicionalmente hechas por mujeres, la negociación de este trabajo todavía está compleja y implicada en relaciones y identidades de género. Trabajando en el hogar fue descrito por los respondientes como una expresión de cuidado para la familia y una representación de la manera ‘correcta’ ser un ‘tipo Kiwi’ y un padre. Pagando otros para hacer este trabajo puede implicar un fracaso en la obligación de cuidar y en la representación de masculinidad.

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