‘Families are desperate’: an au pair on the EU’s life without workers | European Union


BBefore Brexit, Jamie Shackell placed around 500 au pairs from mainland Europe each year with British host families. She hasn’t placed a single one since December. She says her agency, Busy bee au pairs , is now essentially “non-existent”. Shackell – who is also the chairman of the British Association of Au Pair Agencies (Bapaa) – says the same is true of other similar agencies. At one point there were around 30 members. “Now there are only a handful of us left,” she said. “Many have gone out of business.”

Sometimes someone from the EU with a pre-installed status will seek a placement. “Then we have the agencies that are fighting after him or her, as well as the families that are independently seeking,” Shackell explains.

The twinning is intended to offer a unique cultural exchange. A young person – usually under the age of 27 and, before Brexit, mostly from elsewhere in Europe – is welcomed into the family to provide childcare, while learning English and discovering British culture. “Why would a British national want to go and live in the house of another British national?” Shackell said. “There is no benefit to them; there is no cultural enrichment.

For families who employ au pairs, one of the perks is having a (hopefully) fun person with them to give their children an insight into another country and another language. Another is to have someone to help with childcare without having to pay the higher salary of a nanny. Au pairs usually receive around £ 100 per week, in addition to food and accommodation. They also often receive money for English lessons. In return, they are expected to provide around 30 hours of babysitting each week and help with light housework.

Some of the families Shackell deals with – and she gets calls daily – are “desperate – especially now that many of them have been called back to the office.” Au pairs are particularly suitable for single parents, those who do not have families nearby, and those who work shifts (who may have difficulty arranging regular childcare). “I know a family, whose parents work in the police and the NHS – the mother had to reduce her working hours,” Shackell said. The loss of au pairs appears to affect working women disproportionately, she adds.

There is another ripple effect. According to a Bapaa survey, there were around 43,000 au pairs in the UK before the pandemic. “They would come to the UK, take money with them, and spend their pocket money here. They are said to be taking language courses, and many of them have now closed or reduced their courses. People lost their jobs because of it.

She says she has heard of au pairs entering the country on visitor visas and working illegally for families. She also knows at least one who, after this was discovered, was held in a detention center before being deported.

Shackell says Bapaa campaigned for the government to allow au pairs from the EU, but the government said it would not introduce a dedicated au pair route.

Include the EU in the Youth mobility program – which allows young people from countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand to work in the UK for up to two years – would alleviate the problem, Shackell says. “It’s already there; it’s not like they have to create the visa. All they have to do is add European countries to it, ”she says. “Because it’s a two-year visa, it doesn’t encourage migration, but what it will offer is a limited period of time for those who want to travel and have the experience. “

Coming to the UK to be an au pair is a chance for young people to “travel during their formative years,” Shackell explains. But preventing them from coming means both parties lose. “I have the impression that it creates barriers. The whole existence of the au pair, which began after World War II, was aimed at improving relations with Europe. Now it looks like the government is trying to destroy this.

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