Single Mothers Under Welfare Surveillance

By Krys Maki  

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While the poor have always been monitored and surveilled by the state when seeking financial support, the methods, techniques, and capacity for surveillance within and across government jurisdictions has profoundly altered how recipients navigate social assistance. Welfare surveillance has exacerbated social inequality, especially among low income, Indigenous, and racialized single mothers. Krys Maki unpacks in-depth interviews with Ontario Works caseworkers, anti-poverty activists, and single mothers on assistance in Kingston, Peterborough, and Toronto, and employs intersectional feminist political economy and critical surveillance theory to contextualize the ways neoliberal welfare reforms have subjected low-income single mothers to intensive state surveillance. Maki centres their experiences to examine how their status as lone parents prompted fraud investigations and invasive questioning about their relationship status, and triggered investigations by other governing bodies such as child welfare agencies. This book also examines the moral and political implications of administering inadequate benefits alongside punitive surveillance measures. Despite significant restraints, anti-poverty activists, caseworkers, and recipients have discovered individual and collective ways to resist the neoliberal agenda.

Finally, we have a book that explores how modern technologies have added a whole new level of sophisticated surveillance and stigma to single moms on welfare. Told from the perspective of both single moms on welfare and the caseworkers who are mandated to implement these punishing regulations, Maki offers a compelling and important contribution to critical poverty studies. Anyone who says they care one tiny morsel about the poor needs to read this book.

— Margaret Little, professor of political studies and gender studies at Queen’s University and the author of the award-winning No Car, No Radio, No Liquor Permit: The Moral Regulation of Single Mothers in Ontario, 1920-1996

  • EPUB
  • ISBN: 9781773634944
  • November 2021
  • $25.99
  • For sale worldwide
  • PDF
  • ISBN: 9781773634951
  • November 2021
  • $25.99
  • For sale worldwide

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  • Maki offers a valuable new contribution to the study of welfare surveillance by including interviews with welfare case workers and counselors. In contrast to welfare recipients, staff are rarely interviewed, [and] in this book, the voices of case workers remind us that the process of determining eligibility is not objective; it is carried out by people with the ability to both enforce and resist.

    Ineligible is timely as there have been increased calls from some advocates and scholars to replace police with social workers and mental health professionals. There has been significant pushback to these suggestions, including from social workers themselves, who feel that their work is already too close to law enforcement. The stories of surveillance serve as a reminder to maintain a wide conception of state violence and remain critical of calls to reform punitive and carceral state systems.

    — Clare Heggie, Briarpatch, June 13, 2022 (full review)

  • Making up for the dearth of feminist research on the interplay of surveillance and poverty, Ineligiblecombines feminist political theory, moral regulation, and theories of surveillance to offer a unique insight into the cross-disciplinary connections that stretch beyond the traditional theoreticalframeworks of each discipline. In doing so, Maki presents their participants’ lived experiences as integral to their construction of knowledge. Thus, Maki buildsa conceptual model of Ontario Works that is both accessible and a welcome addition to the controversial interaction between welfare scrutiny and assistance. By uncovering how state regulation manifests in the daily lives of Ontarian single mothers, Maki expertly demonstrates how detrimental welfare surveillance and moral regulation are to their individual experiences.

    — Kate Duffy, Surveillance & Society 20(1): 106-107 (full review)


  • Introduction: Welfare Surveillance, Regulation, and Mothering on the Margins
  • The Feminization of Poverty, a “No-Win” Situation
  • Key Concepts and Terms
  • Methods
  • Summary of Book
  • A Brief History of Welfare Surveillance in Ontario Surveillance Stitched into the Fabric of the Emerging Social Safety Net
  • Mapping the Welfare Surveillance Apparatus Surveillance and Discrimination
  • Technological Surveillance and Regulation
  • Moral Surveillance and Regulation
  • Caught in a Web of Surveillance Interviews with Single Mothers on Social Assistance
  • Experiencing Welfare Surveillance
  • Relationships with Welfare Caseworkers
  • Expanding the Welfare Surveillance Apparatus The Family Responsibility Office and Ontario Works
  • The Children’s Aid Society
  • Indigenous Mothers, Surveillance, and Child Welfare
  • Social Workers, Financial Advisors, or Authoritarian Overseers? Interviewing Frontline Caseworkers
  • New Public Management and Workplace Surveillance
  • How Caseworkers Understand Welfare Surveillance
  • Job Satisfaction and Workplace Health and Safety
  • Counternarratives Building Dialogues of Resistance: Counternarratives, Disruptions, and Subversions
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index


  • Krys Maki

    Krys Maki is an activist scholar specializing in mixed-methods community-based participatory research. They currently work as the research and policy manager at Women’s Shelters Canada, a national network of violence against women shelters based in Ottawa, Ontario.

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