Tag Archives: domestic work

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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Filed under Care, Paid domestic work

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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Filed under Au pairs, Care, Housework, Paid domestic work

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