Lydia Hayes: Care workers neglect, ill-treatment and the law
Professor Lydia Hayes visited the University of Glasgow on Monday 9th September 2019 delivering a guest lecture at the School of Law entitled “Criminalising care workers. A critique of prosecution for ill-treatment or wilful neglect”. Earlier in the day she also participated in the group meeting of the ‘Work on Demand’ project discussing the issues of precarious work and research methodologies in socio-legal studies. Professor Hayes’ recent prize winning book ‘Stories of Care: A Labour of Law’ (Palgrave 2017) stimulated discussions on a series of dimensions: it raised substantive questions with respect to the prevailing forms of precarious work, the gendering process in the occupational structure but also and more importantly the gender bias of the law and methodological questions regarding the integration of legal analysis with qualitative sociological investigation.
In her guest lecture Prof. Hayes eloquently demonstrated how violence is associated with care work, how the causes of violence in the form of the crime of ‘wilful neglect’ are largely context-dependent and systemic and how the law is often blind or indifferent to the conditions of work of women care workers. Through several vivid examples of cases of care workers being prosecuted for ill-treatment or wilful neglect, Prof. Hayes argued that care is normatively assumed to be a woman’s responsibility and that care workers are viewed as replacement family members and this is reflected in legal proceedings and jurisprudence. With employment relations being erased as the key context in which care work takes place, women workers underpaid, unprotected and non-trained might be held accountable in criminal law for care failures that are often beyond their own individual agency. The notion of “crimes against caring” produces a narrative of individual responsibility silencing questions of resources, working conditions and management in cases of care failures.
Prof. Hayes argued that the marketisation context of care work, in which the UK is a pioneer compared to other European states, in conjunction with the insufficient training and inadequate regulation – especially so in England – establishes and maintains an environment of heightened risk of abuse in care settings. Care workers are easily criminalised though isolating the conduct of individuals from their workplace settings, with criminal law acting as a levelling tool with which the complexities of abuse in care settings are reduced to the simple idea of a worker exhibiting a “I couldn’t care less attitude”. Yet at the same time as Prof. Hayes argued it is the employment relationship that constructs the labour of care as a matter of public interest and it is through that that the state assumes the power to imprison convicted care workers. This ontological confusion on the part of the state about the role and status of care workers in 21st Century UK adds one further layer of vulnerability on care workers in addition, and relative, to labour market precarity and gender prejudice.
~ Gregoris Ioannou