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Sex, class and CCTV: The covert surveillance of paid homecare workers

Hayes, Lydia 2015. Sex, class and CCTV: The covert surveillance of paid homecare workers. In: Adkins, Lisa and Dever, Maryanne eds. The Post-Fordist Sexual Contract: Working and Living in Contingency, Basingstoke: Palgrave McMillan, pp. 171-193. (10.1057/9781137495549_9)

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Public interest in the surveillance of care workers employed to care for older and disabled adults is rising rapidly in the UK. A number of high profile exposés of elder abuse in private living spaces have fuelled concerns about the ability of regulatory agencies to protect vulnerable adults. News stories and court reports provide accounts of the circumstances in which families take matters into their own hands and use CCTV or hidden cameras to gather evidence about the abuse of older people receiving care; either in institutional settings or in their own private homes. The post-Fordist deregulation of employment in the care sector, together with a lack of public confidence in the statutory bodies responsible for care standards, has created conditions in which surveillance has emerged as a new regulatory dynamic. In this chapter, I draw on interviews with homecare workers providing care under conditions of surveillance in private houses. By exploring the impact of CCTV from the perspective of the homecare workforce, it is evident that its introduction is neither neutral nor inconsequential. Surveillance amplifies the pre-existing tensions and inequalities of gender which characterise care work (Monahan, 2009). Surveillance practices in the context of homecare must be recognised to be situated in and framed by a set of powerful socio-historical norms. A host of assumptions about beauty, truth, gender, class and other social relations are at stake (Abu-Laban, 2015). Surveillance in care settings invokes a familial right to oversee and control the behaviour and actions of women as care-givers. This familial right draws on a legacy of patriarchal control over household servants and domestically situated wives. Surveillance by families in the context of homecare introduces a fundamental shift in the power relations of paid care-giving and risks palpable negative consequences for both homecare workers and the people for whom they care. The existing management-employee relationship which defines worker subordination is augmented by a family-employee power relationship in which paid care workers are marked out as the ‘unfamiliar other’ in the context of family homes. My research finds perceptions and experiences of surveillance by families have increased employment insecurity, introduced uncertainty over conduct and care standards and (paradoxically) enhanced managerial control over labour. To give attention to the wider cultural context in which homecare workers’ perceptions and experiences are situated, and to illustrate how surveillance images enter the public domain, I consider press reporting about the prosecution of homecare workers for theft (financial abuse). In doing so, I show how the availability of surveillance images transforms prosecutions into ‘news events’ and I argue that surveillance practices facilitate the portrayal and treatment of homecare workers in ways that humiliate and denigrate them as a low status social group. Media coverage of criminal prosecutions on the basis of covert surveillance plays an important part in shaping wider public perceptions. Particular social and gendered traits are attributed to offenders because they are care workers and these traits serve to trivialise the economic needs of homecare workers and mark them out collectively as undeserving of public respect and lacking in self-control. Hence, familial surveillance of care workers is integrally bound to chronically low wages and the continuing weak regard for employment rights protection in the homecare sector. Through the covert surveillance of homecare workers, the economic devaluing of care work finds cultural expression; an effect is to deepen the marginalisation of homecare workers in the labour market.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: ?? LAWPL ??
Cardiff Centre for Ethics, Law and Society (CCELS)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
K Law > K Law (General)
Publisher: Palgrave McMillan
ISBN: 9781349577590
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2020 10:39

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