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Au pairing after the au pair scheme…Research finds widespread exploitation of au pairs and a system open to abuse


Our two-year ESRC-funded research project collected data from au pairs and host families and the findings are published today (16 October 2014). 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…

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The Servant Problem

Josie Foreman of Feminist Fightback asks those who see themselves as on the left to reconsider employing a cleaner.

This blog post on the red pepper site sums up many of my thoughts about the problems with employing a cleaner.

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June 10, 2014 · 3:13 pm

New paper on housework

I have a new paper on housework out in the journal Geography Compass. House/work: Home as a space of work and consumption. It’s free to download.

Here’s the abstract:

This paper explores the literatures on home as a place of work and a space of consumption. Geographers have made significant contributions to our understandings of homes as spaces that are (re)made by the work and consumption that goes on within them, as well as being locales of many different forms of work (paid and unpaid) and multifarious consumption activities. The paper focuses on how work and consumption in the home intertwine. That is how consumption at home creates work and is a form of work itself. Few activities in the home are separable from the work that goes on there, and consumption is intimately tied to domestic labour. This paper explores these relationships between work and consumption in the home focusing on housework, paid domestic labour, cooking and eating and sustainable consumption.


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Wave of misogyny in British Universities

On Friday 15th November this article about sexism in British universities was published in the Guardian.  The article documents a number of incidents that have taken place in recent weeks where female student have been subject to threats of rape and assault, all justified with the phrase ‘just banter’.  For ‘educated’, ‘intelligent’ young men it seems raping women, treating them like objects, forcing them to miscarry are just all terribly funny and woe betide any woman who does not see the joke.  The article reveals not only a lack of respect for women, but also a violent hatred.

The article filled me with rage. After I read it I shook with anger at these young men who are going to leave university, go off into privileged positions in the world of work, probably get married and even have daughters, all without ever realising that women are equally human to them and have just the same rights to enter universities, succeed in the world of work and have sex on their own terms.  So many years after ‘women’s liberation’ how has it come to this?  

Two things struck me after the reading the article.  The first was that despite the fact a large number of the women academics I follow on twitter tweeted the article or made comments on it, not a single man did.  Could they really not have seen it, even though it was about the industry they work in?  Or was it just not important to them?

The second was about the responsibilities that we as academics have to combat sexism, racism and homophobia on campus.  This made me think about someone I know who is a student at the moment.  She told me that this term two of the three modules she is taking have NO readings from women on the reading lists – she is studying English and Film subjects with no shortage of women researchers.  Two of her lecturers could think of NOTHING that women had contributed to their areas of study.  That is so absurd and offensive.  If women are treated like that and represented like that inside the classroom, of course they are going to be derided outside it.  If male students see that their lecturers can overlook or despise the contribution of women to the important things that they study, why shouldn’t those same students think they can despise women in general?  I’m not saying for a single minute that putting a few books by women on a reading list is going to solve the problem of sexism but a concerted effort by university staff to represent women and people of colour at all times as worthy of respect would at least be a start.  

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Au pairing after the au pair scheme

This is a post about the research project I am currently working on written by Nicky Busch, the researcher working on the project.  It was first posted on the Birkbeck Research Blog

Au pairing after the au pair scheme: new migration rules and childcare in private homes in the UK

This post was contributed by Dr Nicky Busch, Research Fellow in the Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies.

People in the UK work some of the longest hours in Europe and, for those with children, the difficulty in reconciling paid work with childcare involves not only time pressures but significant expense. It is no wonder that an increasing number of families in the UK have turned over their spare room (or in some cases a spare bed in the children’s room) to an au pair. After all, for between £65 and £100 a week, an au pair will look after children, cook, clean and generally be an extra pair of hands.

However, while au pairs do many of the same tasks as nannies, cleaners, maids and other domestic workers, au pairing has often been excluded from discussions of paid domestic labour as it is technically not defined as ‘work’. Au pairs have been understood in the media and in popular discourse as somewhere between students and working holiday makers and have generally been imagined as occupying a relatively privileged position without the same problems as domestic workers. This in part reflects the historical origins of the scheme: it was developed in the post-war years as a cultural exchange programme among European countries allowing young women – and it was only women – to travel to live ‘as an equal’ with a family in another country. They would provide help with household tasks in exchange for pocket money and the experience of living with a host family. The scheme was imagined as providing a small amount of extra household help to families facing the ‘servant crisis’, while also giving middle class young women training in running a home.

However, au pairing grew substantially during the 1990s and 2000s and au pairs are now depended upon by tens of thousands of British families to provide affordable, flexible childcare. The importance of au pairs as a source of childcare and domestic work – and recent changes to legislation covering au pairing in the UK – suggest the evaluation of au pairs as both privileged and protected needs to be revisited. The lives of au pairs, their working conditions and relationships with host families needs to be understood in light of changes to the scheme which mean that au pairs are now less differentiated from domestic workers and that they now lack protections in terms of remuneration and working conditions which previously existed.

The knowledge vacuum about this important form of migrant (mostly) female care and domestic work was a starting point for an ESRC funded research project on the au pair scheme being undertaken in the Department of Geography, Environment & Development Studies by Dr Rosie Cox and Dr Nicky Busch. We are particularly interested in the period since November 2008, when the au pair visa was abolished in the UK. This change, which was part of the move to the Points Based Immigration Scheme, meant sharply reduced government control of the au pair scheme just at the point when for many families in the UK, and elsewhere in Europe, the problem of balancing work and home life has led an increasing number of people to turn to low waged labour of migrant women to perform childcare and domestic labour.

The project to date has involved assessing the available data sets to find out what we do and what we do not know about the number of au pairs in the UK and talking to key informants such as policy makers and domestic worker organisations about the effects of changes to the scheme on the ground. We are now at the stage of the project where we interview au pairs and their host families to build as deep a picture as possible of the way the scheme works and how people involved experience being an au pair or being a host family. We will then use our data to produce and disseminate academic material.

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I am mommy blogger hear me sell (and torture other mothers)

Have a look at this blog post by Janice and Sondra Cuban on the effects of ‘mommy bloggers’ on new mothers.

Sondra is an academic who has researched care workers and a relatively new mother.  She has become concerned about the effects of advice blogs on women.  The blogs both encourage consumption (of toys, clothes, etc for kids) and they frame housework as an absolute duty for women in order to sell cleaning products.  Mommy blogs work as the new advice manuals for housewives and their rhetoric is reminiscent of the 1950s but with the twist that being a ‘mommy’ has also got to be framed as ‘work’.Image

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About housework ….

I’m an academic who researches work in the home and who spends far too much time thinking about homes, housework and the relationship between home and work.

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