Within the frame of a growing global digital platform economy, new digital intermediaries connecting families with carers and domestic workers have emerged in Spain, tapping into the need for long-term care services. This phenomenon has been described by some in the media as the “uberisation” of the care sector (Magallón 2020).
Like in other countries, the growing body of literature on the platform economy in Spain has until recently paid little attention to home care and domestic work. To help fill this gap, Digital Future Society (DFS) conducted some exploratory research and published a report called Home care and digital platforms in Spain (Digital Future Society 2021). For this, we conducted desk research and interviews with key informants including platform founders.
The research identified two types of digital labour platforms operating in the home care sector. The first type, ‘multi-service’ platforms, offers care services (including child and elderly care) as well as a range of other services connected to the household including care of pets, maintenance and repairs, private tuition, personal training and so on. They appear to operate with an ‘on-demand’ model similar to platforms in other sectors. Some, like Clintu and Cronoshare, were founded in Spain while others, like Yoopies, were founded abroad and operate internationally. The second type offers home care services exclusively. Some of these platforms, such as the Dutch platform Sitly or the Spanish app Babysits, specialise in childcare or, as in the case of Depencare, in the care of the elderly and dependent. Within this group that focuses on care of the elderly and dependent, the research identified nine platforms founded in Spain. Digital Future Society’s report focused on these platforms, identifying two different operational models: the digital placement agency model and the on-demand model.
Seven of the nine businesses identified follow the digital placement agencies model and examples include Depencare, Cuideo and Aiudo. They specialise in mid- to long-term care and act in a similar way to a traditional placement agency. The platforms charge users an initial fee, which includes assessing the client’s needs and selecting a carer. The platforms also offer the option of doing the required legal and administrative work, such as contract signing and registering the carer in the Special System for Domestic Workers. For a monthly fee, the platform also offers to manage the payroll, find a substitute carer during the holidays or sick leave, be in regular contact with the worker and family to follow up, and arrange any contractual changes that might emerge.
The other two digital platforms focusing on care of the elderly and dependent and that were identified at the time of the study, Familiados and Joyners, follow an on-demand model. They specialise in short-term, one-off services. Typical client needs would include someone needing a carer to accompany their elderly parent home from the hospital, someone whose regular carer cannot come at the last minute, someone whose child is sick or on school holiday while they have to work, or parents going out for dinner with friends.In this case, an independent worker provides the care,and the platform takes a cut of the hourly rate.
The profile of workers tends to differ depending on the platform model. In the case of digital placement agencies, carers are employed as domestic workers and usually come from that sector. Whereas the workers finding work through on-demand platforms tend to come from the health and social care fields.
Although both the on-demand and digital placement agencies have features in common, they are different in several key aspects. In the case of the digitalplacement agencies, the matching process is still supervised by a human being, even if the system is highly automated and algorithms facilitate the job. Given that these services tend to be for mid- to long-term care, the relationship between the client and carer is also long-term and therefore the matching takes place sporadically. In the case of the on-demand care platforms, the majority of services are for more urgent, one off cases. In a matter of minutes, a client can search for carers in their geographical location and get in touch with them. The process in the on-demand model is fully automated.
The profile of workers tends to differ depending on the platform model. In the case of digital placement agencies, carers are employed as domestic workers and usually come from that sector. Whereas the workers finding work through on-demand platforms like Familiados tend to come from the health and social care fields. In fact, in interviews, the platform founders described how they target professionals who might already be working part-time for a care home or health centre and are looking to earn an extra income. Lastly, another key difference between the digital placement and on-demand model is that in the case of the former, the family contracts the carer (or is supposed to) under the Special System for Domestic Workers. That is unless they are employed directly by the business (which only happens in a small minority of cases because, as explained above, it is more expensive for the family to employ a carer contracted by the business than to employ her themselves as a domestic worker).
The sector is highly volatile and fast-evolving, as is typical for start-up companies. All the home care platforms identified by DFS began as start-ups, with the founders fitting the profile of a typical entrepreneur in Spain (predominantly male, in their mid 30s or 40s, from consultancy and business backgrounds). Only in a small minority of cases were the platforms co-founded with women.
It should also be noted that the oldest of the platforms identified by the DFS research were founded in 2015 with not all having survived over the years or having ever become profitable. Between the time DFS interviewed the founders in the summer of 2020 and the report’s publication in early 2021, Joyners, one of the on-demand platforms, closed. Also, since publishing the report, other platforms like Senniors have emerged and are gaining traction while Familiados has developed its business model to now offer childcare services (Familiados Kids) as well as a premium paid subscription for both carers and workers.
This article is an excerpt from the report ‘Global perspectives on women, work, and digital labour platforms. Article 4, Digital labour platforms in highly feminised sectors: home care in Spain‘. Words by Olivia Blanchard, Digital Future Society (2022)