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:, 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.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.