Underpaid, Overworked, but Happy? Ambiguous Experiences and Processes of Vulnerabilisation in Domiciliary Elderly Care


In this article, we present and discuss current empirical findings on vulnerabilities of workers in European domiciliary elderly care. We understand vulnerability as a process, taking place at different, interrelated levels: the macro level of social policies, the meso level of work organisation, and the micro level of sense-making and agency. To highlight this process-oriented idea of vulnerability, we use the term “vulnerabilisation”. Furthermore, we argue that individual perspectives need to be taken into account in order to understand processes of vulnerabilisation. The findings presented build upon comparative analyses of qualitative data from five countries – Denmark, Germany, Italy, Lithuania and the United Kingdom – which was obtained in the research project Work and Life Quality in New and Growing Jobs (Walqing). We present seven key issues that are identified as significant in shaping vulnerabilities in domiciliary elderly care: (1) conditions and trends at the macro level of policies and regulation, (2) downsizing and time-pressure, (3) precarious contracts and low wages, (4) the physical and emotional demands of care work, (5) the central ambiguity of care work being liked by workers in spite of unfavourable working conditions, (6) the work being done in the homes of clients, and (7) the perception of the sector as a “female” sector. For each of these issues, we present the main results and discuss the relevance of these characteristics of care work with regard to vulnerabilisation. We conclude that vulnerability is not a static trait but a process, and that vulnerabilisation can be embedded in key characteristics of the work itself that interact with the interpretations, actions and social background of workers.
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