Social workers are making an exodus to agency work in an attempt to gain some control over their lives, Unison has said in response to stark figures on agency spend.
A Community Care investigation has revealed spending on agency social workers has gone up by nearly a third in the last year, leaving councils with a £1.8m hole in their budget.
The average UK council spent £1.2m on agency workers in children’s services and £647,247 in adults’ services, an increase of 33% in the past year.
Unison professional officer Helga Pile said the agency spend was “a really unhealthy situation”.
“It does seem some are making the decision to go over to agency work to get some control back in terms of pressures in their departments.
“Precious resources are going out to agencies and not being spent on boosting up the existing workforce or on the service,” said Pile.
More money was spent on agency workers in children’s services, but a bigger increase (45%) was seen in adults’ services.
Association of Directors of Adults’ Services (ADASS) president David Pearson said the huge rise in Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) assessments was a major cause of the increase in spend on agency workers in adults’ services.
“One of the best ways to release capacity so people can focus on DoLS assessments is to backfill their role with agency staff,” he said.
Rather than training people up to carry out these best interest assessments, councils will divert workers who already have the training to focus entirely on assessing DoLS cases, bringing in agency workers to take on their normal duties.
However, the 27% increase in spending on agency staff in children’s services appears more difficult to explain.
Dave Hill, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS)’s workforce chair said: “The numbers would suggest people are making the considered choice to come out of permanent jobs and go over to agency work which, if it’s the case, is deeply depressing.”
He said expensive agency staff take away from other spending priorities, sometimes meaning councils can’t afford to fill all their vacancies.
“That’s going to have an impact on caseloads and it’s not going to be a good place to work,” Hill said.
Pile said: “It really is about employers addressing the working conditions and making the job more manageable by looking at caseloads, supervision, administrative support and stress levels rather than just simply handing over the money to agencies.”
Despite a 33% increase in spending UK-wide, there were regional variations with many Scottish and Welsh councils reporting almost no spending on agency workers. 6 out of the top ten biggest spending councils were in Greater London and the home counties.