In June 2020, just as the UK began a slow crawl out of lockdown due to Covid-19, UK Nanny launched their inaugural campaign. Nannies Matter advocates in favour of developing a “safer, higher quality” industry, proposing “a minimum requirement of knowledge and qualifications to benchmark a Professional Nanny”. The campaign is a nanny-led operation that is pushing for the regularisation of their sector, through reforms such as mandatory Ofsted registration and a further crackdown on “unsuitable” migrant workers.
What is the nanny regulation movement?
Nannies, a largely unregulated workforce that forms an integral part of the broader childcare sector, work in other people’s homes and often also board with their employers. Often working 12+ hour days and providing flexible care not covered by nurseries and childminders, such as evenings and weekends, nannies have increasingly found themselves plugging the gaps in the UK’s deteriorating childcare services. The regulation movement—led by groups including UK Nanny, Regulation Matters, BAPN, and NALO Nannies, is pushing for reforms to this historically migrant and working-class sector, largely by centering the argument that increased regulation will “safeguard children”.
The case for state regulation is a strong one, in many respects. With regulation comes greater workers’ rights, entitlement to paid sick leave and maternity leave, as well as legal recourse in the case of workplace disputes. Desire for professional and cultural recognition is also understandable: childcare has historically been demeaned as menial work, and in the face of disrespect it is only natural to want to assert one’s value. Regulation offers the cultural capital that comes with engaging in ‘professional’ work. The problem with the regulation movement is that these groups do not account for the broader reasons as to why someone might be working without qualifications, or that the unregulated nature of nannying has historically provided a reprieve to those who cannot work legally, or who do not possess the academic capital required to work in other industries.
The regulation movement is led entirely by white British women, yet in 2005, 17,136 Domestic Workers in a Private Household visas were issued—the same year that the nanny sector was reported to support “between 30,000 and 36,000” workers. This makes migrant workers at least 47% of the sector, and therefore means that regulation advocacy groups are not illustrative of the labour force they claim to represent. But these nannies are not trying to be representative. By ignoring the socioeconomic inequalities that dictate why so many must work without tertiary education or the Right to Work, these groups benefit from implicitly racist and classist structures by centering themselves as the “qualified” option. In one of the most blatant plays on parents’ fears, Regulation Matters linked unregistered childcare workers with sex offenders, asserting that ‘Anyone can call themselves a nanny’.
The case for a caring alternative
The Nanny Solidarity Network (NSN)—a non-profit organisation that provides information, support, and space for collective action for nannies, by nannies, is the only mutual aid group for nannies in the UK. Being migrant-led, many of our members are directly targeted by the punitive reforms put forward by the regulation movement. As such, the NSN is pushing for a different response to the sector’s failings. During lockdown we raised over £9000 with the Childcare Workers’ Hardship Fund to support childcare workers who were made jobless, homeless, or left without access to government schemes.
During coronavirus, the government has treated childcare, and the workers who carry it out, as an afterthought. Many childcare workers have already been forced into destitution and, as we approach the virus’ second wave, the number of those affected is set to increase once again. In lieu of access to safety nets such as Universal Credit, many migrant workers have found themselves reliant on mutual aid. But while worker-to-worker support has been a lifeline for many during the pandemic, simply ‘plugging the gaps’ will not prevent future injustices. The Nanny Solidarity Network is now working to establish the first union branch for nannies in the UK with the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), and in so doing we hope to begin campaigning for the legislative reform required to protect our fellow workers.
Migrant and worker-led groups such as Kalayaan and Voice of Domestic Workers provide a blueprint for domestic worker organising, with Kalayaan’s successful campaign to allow migrant domestic workers to change employers providing a significant example of hard-won legislative change in the sector. In the process of unionisation we must also think critically about how traditional trade union strategies (such as striking) may or may not be applied to a feminised labour force in which workers are isolated in domestic settings. We must get creative if we are going to effect substantive change.
Creating a supported sector
The NSN believes that marginalised workers must fight against, not enforce, class hierarchy. We must eradicate the structural inequalities that necessitate unregulated work, as opposed to punish unregulated workers themselves. Minimum qualifications cannot be ethically introduced without first ensuring that workers have equitable access to educational resources, as well as to legal employment—to proceed otherwise would be to treat a symptom without addressing the cause. As nannies, we must consider our industry within its broader societal context: this is a country in which our government criminalises migrant workers; where we have seen a 310% increase in university fees over the past 10 years (with fees ascending up to £38,000 per year for international students); and where the average childcare worker earns less than minimum wage. As we gear up for a second lockdown, it is crucial that nannies support one another, regardless of our respective qualifications. If we are serious about improving our sector, we must start considering a kinder path to industry reform.
If you are a nanny or au pair and would like to join the IWGB union branch, our network, or would like to apply to our hardship fund, please get in touch here, or join the Holding Branch at IWGB here.
Veronica Deutsch is a writer and researcher based in London, interested in care-work, feminist theory, and class inequalities. She is the co-founder of the Nanny Solidarity Network and Childcare Workers’ Hardship Fund, which has provided grants to childcare workers in financial hardship during the Coronavirus crisis. She is currently working to establish a formal union for nannies with the Independent Workers’ of Great Britain (IWGB). Veronica has worked as a nanny for eight years. Twitter: @verondeu1 Nanny Solidarity Network (NSN): @nannysolidarity