(Image: Mable, AAP)

This is the second instalment of a series on aged care app Mable. Read part one here.

Online carer platform Mable has benefitted from the advertising and marketing support of Murdoch-owned media outlets in what amounts to a remarkable blurring of editorial lines.

As we’ve reported, Mable failed to supply emergency staffing for the COVID-affected Newmarch aged care facility just days after receiving a multimillion-dollar contract from the federal government to do just that. It has also been criticised by experts for its platform, which provides a kind of carers’ matchmaking service. It’s a hands-off model that risks putting the vulnerable in charge of the vulnerable.

Yet little of this critical information has been reported by News Corp sites, which has pounced on other COVID-19 failures. Before now, critical reporting on Mable has been confined to The Saturday Paper and Michael West Media.

The Mable model is an example of the free market in action — warts and all — and as a method of providing carers it deserves scrutiny. The model operates outside regulations governing aged care and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Wages are “negotiated” between carers and clients, with a risk that the lowest bid wins. The employment model also undercuts any unionisation.

According to Paula McDonald, professor of work and organisation at Queensland University of Technology’s Business School, platforms like Mable put the onus on freelancers to pay for work costs usually met by employers. These include vehicle expenses, insurances, providing police checks, creating and updating online profiles, managing on-demand and fragmented work schedules, developing individual service agreements and resolving disputes.

“Furthermore,” McDonald said, “a substantial array of tasks referred to as ‘time out of life’ are mandatory for engaging with the platform but are unremunerated. Workers are only paid for designated booking times approved by the client and spent directly caring for individuals in their homes.”

“By virtue of being a freelancer there is an inevitable erosion of the payment that is negotiated,” McDonald told Inq. “There is also the nature of care work, which is more often done by women. It is not purely transactional like an Uber trip and there is no additional payment if a freelancer goes over their agreed time with a client.”

Mable CEO Peter Scutt rejects the criticism. He prefers to describe the care workers as “small business owners” who negotiate wages and resolve problems directly with clients — all part and parcel of the marketplace for work, provided by Mable.

Mable, in the meantime, makes its money by applying a 15% charge to all fees charged for caring — 10% is taken from carers payments and 5% from clients.

Scutt told Inq that Mable provided information to workers on things to consider when setting and agreeing on their rates with clients, including travel time, work expenses and superannuation, taxation, holiday and sick pay.

“The average hourly rate for workers offering social support, domestic assistance and personal care-type services Monday to Friday day time is $36 after Mable platform fees,” he said. Other inquiries have heard that Mable now has a minimum rate of $25 an hour.

Mable Technologies, as Inq reported yesterday, has been backed by Scaleup Mediafund, a media-for-equity fund owned by News Corp and other Murdoch media businesses. In return for promoting the Mable name, Scaleup has a minority shareholding in the company.

Its investment in Mable stands as just one example of News Corp morphing into a hybrid model of boosting businesses using its marketing and advertising power on the one hand, while on the other hand reporting on those businesses — all the while standing to profit when a business succeeds.

Since its launch in late 2016, News Corp’s Scaleup has backed nine digital startups, including Mable. One is a matching platform for pet-minding. Another is for child-minding

By far the best performer has been PointsBet, an online betting platform which has been wildly successful in Australia and the US. PointsBet listed on the ASX in June last year. As Scaleup’s marketing team put it: “With a strong proposition and campaign execution, PointsBet experienced rapid growth to reach over 123,000 clients at listing, a substantial increase from only 8000 clients at the time of Scaleup Mediafund’s initial investment 18 months before.

In August this year investing website The Motley Fool reported that total revenue for PointsBet had “rocketed” 194% higher to $75.2 million in a “breakout” year, producing an “astonishing” share price rise of 86.7% in one day. PointsBet recently launched the second stage of a $353 million capital raising.

PointsBet’s success is the stuff of early investor dreams and has happened due to changes in betting laws in the US.

Whether Mable yields the same success remains to be seen. The number of independent contractors in health and social care has increased dramatically in recent years, with online platforms playing an important role in that.

The aged care royal commission has already revealed the failings of corporatised, profit-driven aged care. The commission has heard detailed evidence on the adequacy of the Mable model and has already hinted that Commonwealth regulation of platforms like Mable might be on the way given that government money is used to pay workers signed up to Mable.

At the same time, as Crikey has been reporting, there has been a total failure in the government system to protect those receiving care under the NDIS, with only one provider being fined despite more than 8000 complaints.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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