Marketplace linking carers to families launches in UK

This is the future: markets in everything.

Wired offers another example of how the internet is enabling markets in everything. Olivia Solon writes:

Care.com, an online marketplace that connects families with carers, has launched in the UK after six years of operating in the US.

The Boston-headquartered online service charges families a subscription fee to view the selection of carers which range from dog sitters and nannies through to special needs carers for those with severe disabilities. . .

The profiles of all of the carers on the site are reviewed by a team to make sure they are authentic and don't contain suspicious content.

It looks like the company goes beyond potential competitors like Gumtree and Craigslist by offering the vetting service, but it also takes a bigger cut of the transactions; the US site charges families $35 (£22) per month and carers $15 (£9) per month, although it offers a basic membership for free. It seems likely that potential users will view the fee as worthwhile, however. The risks inherent in buying a second-hand carpet from a complete stranger on the internet are somewhat less than the risks in leaving your children alone with them for a day. And, of course, if you find a carer you like, there is nothing stopping you from cancelling your membership; unlike a traditional agency, the carer works directly for you.

Cutting out the middleman (or, more accurately, replacing it with a cheaper, more efficient middleman) promises to improve lives for both sides of the equation. Not only does it save money, but it also allows for much more nuanced competition. Careseekers can offer a higher or lower salary depending on the level of experience they desire and the difficulty of the job, while caregivers are not required to stick to standard rates, and can cut their salary to make themselves more employable, or charge more if they feel they are worth it.

Efficient markets require perfect information, of course. While the vetting of carers helps that end, the incentives for parents to play down the misbehaviour of their children are strong. Perhaps a child equivalent of estate agent euphamisms will develop. If so, carers are advised to keep an eye out for children described as "boisterous", "energetic" or "free-spirited" – or at least increase their fee.

A woman pushes a child in a pushchair. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn turns "the nasty party" back on Theresa May

The Labour leader exploited Conservative splits over disability benefits.

It didn't take long for Theresa May to herald the Conservatives' Copeland by-election victory at PMQs (and one couldn't blame her). But Jeremy Corbyn swiftly brought her down to earth. The Labour leader denounced the government for "sneaking out" its decision to overrule a court judgement calling for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to be extended to those with severe mental health problems.

Rather than merely expressing his own outrage, Corbyn drew on that of others. He smartly quoted Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, one of the tax credit rebels, who has called on May to "think agan" and "honour" the court's rulings. The Prime Minister protested that the government was merely returning PIPs to their "original intention" and was already spending more than ever on those with mental health conditions. But Corbyn had more ammunition, denouncing Conservative policy chair George Freeman for his suggestion that those "taking pills" for anxiety aren't "really disabled". After May branded Labour "the nasty party" in her conference speech, Corbyn suggested that the Tories were once again worthy of her epithet.

May emphasised that Freeman had apologised and, as so often, warned that the "extra support" promised by Labour would be impossible without the "strong economy" guaranteed by the Conservatives. "The one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain," she declared. Unlike on previous occasions, Corbyn had a ready riposte, reminding the Tories that they had increased the national debt by more than every previous Labour government.

But May saved her jibe of choice for the end, recalling shadow cabinet minister Cat Smith's assertion that the Copeland result was an "incredible achivement" for her party. "I think that word actually sums up the Right Honourable Gentleman's leadership. In-cred-ible," May concluded, with a rather surreal Thatcher-esque flourish.

Yet many economists and EU experts say the same of her Brexit plan. Having repeatedly hailed the UK's "strong economy" (which has so far proved resilient), May had better hope that single market withdrawal does not wreck it. But on Brexit, as on disability benefits, it is Conservative rebels, not Corbyn, who will determine her fate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.