MM 2001: Work and Community - Books

December 21, 2000

In Work, At Home: Towards an Understanding of Homeworking.
By Alan Felstead and Nick Jewson. Routledge, £60.00.

More and more people are earning a living at home. The numbers of those working mainly at home doubled over the 19 years to 1998. Yet, as Alan Felstead and Nick Jewson, both at the University of Leicester, point out, there are two types of homeworking.

The first is low-paid, low-skilled manual work done in cramped, dingy and unsafe surroundings, often involving child labour. The authors' survey found manual homeworkers earning as little as 25p an hour to assemble advertising folders.

The second is the quite different image in which working at home is portrayed as the future of employment, characterised by empowerment and autonomy and focused on teleworkers - professionals doing business by fax, phone and email.

The book explores the problems of juggling the twin demands of paid employment and domestic life in the same locale, which calls for coping strategies. A general attribute is self-discipline and motivation.

"Although attitudes of home-located producers have much in common with the personality types currently demanded by leading-edge, managerial ideologies, employers often appear to regard working at home as problematic."

Felstead and Jewson say the growth of home-located production raises a raft of social policy issues, including transport, urban and rural planning, architectural design, electronic infrastructure, commercial property values, health and safety and employment law, all of which are under-researched. Home-based employment is only one part of a bigger change that will "have fundamental consequences for the quality of our lives and for the work-life balance".

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