Au pairs for the elderly: Squeezed middle-classes turn to untrained help as they struggle to find care

Growing numbers of families are hiring teenage au pairs with no medical training to look after their elderly relatives.

The ‘squeezed middle’ are turning to the kind of workers who would normally look after children as they struggle with soaring care bills and inadequate state support.
They are following the example of cash-strapped Italy and Greece, where live-in minders have become the norm.
Some of the au pairs are as young as 18 and have limited English. They often have no formal training in elderly care or first aid.
Instead, they help around the house, provide meals and medicines at the right times and act as a companion. In return they receive board and lodging and ‘pocket money’ of around £3.60 per hour.
Damian Kirkwood runs Almondbury Elderly Help, an online service which connects families with au pairs. ‘Elderly care is getting more and more expensive but au pairs are perfect because they live in and they are inexpensive,’ he said.
‘We stress that our au pairs are not medically trained but most people just want the peace of mind that their mum or their dad isn’t alone and vulnerable.’
But their lack of medical training has caused concern that some may be taking on more than they can manage, putting their clients at risk.
And the trend has prompted elderly rights groups to criticise the Government for failing to provide enough state-funded help for middle-income families.
Currently, pensioners with savings or assets worth more than £23,250 have to pay the cost of their own care, meaning tens of thousands are forced to sell their homes.
Those with fewer assets must still meet strict criteria set by local authorities, which expect a person to need a ‘substantial’ level of care before any state-funded help is offered.
This means thousands of pensioners who need some assistance but cannot afford expensive private carers are abandoned by the system.
Emily Holzhausen, of charity Carers UK, said: ‘What we are seeing here is families’ response to the fact that the care system just does not meet their needs. The whole care system is in crisis and is chronically under-funded.
Families are largely left to fend for themselves when it comes to finding care.
‘It is enormously difficult at quite a stressful time and they are desperate for a solution.’ 
She added: ‘In some circumstances, for people with lower needs, and with an au pair coming to the UK to learn English and live with a family, it can work. [But] it can go wrong if there’s a misunderstanding or the family expects the person coming into the home to do too much.
‘If we are talking about someone providing more intensive care, personal care, to a person, that needs thinking about carefully.’


Sourced from the Daily Mail, 18th August 2012.