The thesis pursued in this article is that an accelerating interest in elder abuse is central to understanding modern care policy as a social phenomenon. It will be argued that the 'discovery' of elder abuse legitimates practice in which the state monitors and co-ordinates but does not intervene. This has led to a social situation that has radically transformed social welfare of its traditional rationale as 'caregiver'. Simultaneously, informal care has become the centrepiece of social policy following the adoption of market forces to community care policies in the UK and elsewhere. One intended consequence of these policies has been to transfer the financial and emotional responsibilities for care to informal carers. The absence of a mechanism for formalising informal care is highly problematic. Such a social policy has found resolution through an emphasis on forms of abuse perpetrated by carers on older service users. This sudden concern for the safety and financial security of older people, who are service users, legitimates a role for welfare professionals within the bleak landscape constructed by community care policy. The price to be paid, however, is that the relationship between the state and older people has been reduced to one of surveillance and the enforcement of an oppressive notion of what community obligation might entail. As with other forms of tacit control, the surveillance role left to a residual local state evokes a 'surface' of reality as constructed as 'depth', whereby generic methods of surveillance are presented as 'concern' models. This act of observation confers a uniformity that emphasises the 'protective' role of the professional rather than the substantive requirements of older people at the centre of inspection.