Number of social workers who prefer locum work on the increase

Community Care research shows the majority of social workers still prefer permanent work but this is beginning to change

agency social worker, hot desking, office
Photo:WestEnd61/Rex/Shutterstock

The number of social workers preferring to work for agencies and in non-permanent roles has increased over the past two years from 12% in 2014 to 16% in 2016 according to Community Care research.

A survey of 1,351 social workers, undertaken last year, examined how social workers’ attitudes to job hunting have changed since a previous survey carried out in 2014.

If you would like to know more about the findings from our research and join a debate on the implications for social worker recruitment then please join our webinar on Tuesday 28 February. Community Care’s editor Judy Cooper will go through the findings in more detail and host a debate among delegates. Register now.

It found that while the majority of social workers preferred permanent work this had dropped from 88% to 84% in line with the subsequent increase in those preferring agency work.

Many of those who expressed a preference for locum work cited a better work-life balance, better rates of pay and a greater ability to switch jobs if they feel unhappy with where they are working.

Flexibility and control

“The culture of places can change so quickly, [locum work] gives me the flexibility to move if it suddenly becomes oppressive,” a senior social worker in London said.

Another senior practitioner working in the Midlands added: “If I’m treated badly I can leave quickly.”

However, a social worker in the north-west of England pointed out: “I was locum for a while…liked the pay but didn’t feel like a proper part of the team.”

But security of permanent work remains attractive

Most social workers, it appears, still prefer the security of permanent work and the continuity it offers with service users.

“I like the security permanent work brings and enjoy building supportive longer-term relationships with my client group,” explained a senior social worker from South East England.

Other respondents noted that permanent jobs offer more benefits, such as pensions and paid holidays, and that it is easier to get a mortgage when employed rather than working as a locum.

3 Responses to Number of social workers who prefer locum work on the increase

  1. Another Social Worker February 23, 2017 at 10:21 am #

    When there is a large proportion of agency managers and social workers coming and going all the time it creates instability and a loss of commitment and team identity. And more importantly it is not good for children and families as it has a negative impact on their stability. Staff retention is a massive issue.

    • Anthony Ade February 23, 2017 at 11:58 am #

      It is not quite clear what point you are trying to make, other than your bias about temporary staff, even though you appear to acknowledge that “staff retention is a massive issue”.

      Perhaps you fail to recognise that locum staff provide a vital service, and contribution to the team they work in albeit being short term (I have been in my current team for over 10 months).
      Locum work force significantly save their employers significant amount of money – they only get paid for the work they do, and don’t take needless days off sick.

      Your comment, the constant “coming and going” of agency staff creates instability and a “loss of commitment and team identity” appears ill informed. It does not present a balanced view of the prevailing situation. Stressed out and disgruntled staff provide no more stability, or commitment to the team regardless or their status (whether permanent or otherwise).
      The important thing I feel, is that staff are dedicated, and support their clients (and their clients families) appropriately – given current limited resources.
      Social workers (or indeed anybody) should ALWAYS be able to decide how they chose to work (permanent or otherwise), without needleless suggestions that the former creates instability and a loss of commitment and identity to the team they work in. People should be valued for the contribution they bring to the team, their tenure in the team should not be a big deal.

      I cannot help but wonder what solution you are able to propose.

  2. HAD ENUFF February 24, 2017 at 9:40 am #

    I agree 100% with you Anthony. I have recently left a local authority team in which i was a children’s social worker. I felt that the work was too much, resources were limited, the turnover of staff was high due to stress levels, staff did not feel supported in their work. There are massive issues within this field and how they will be resolved is anyone guess. Yes there should be a balanced case load, but when staff have 29 cases and although not all are complex it is still 29 cases that I believe is an unrealistic amount to manage. Where do management draw the line with allocations? or do they? or should they?. Thank goodness for locum staff, and lets not forget that they are qualified social workers and yes they are not permanent and can choose where they work, More importantly they fill the gap when recruitment of permanent social workers is failing, when permanent staff are off sick whether that is long term or short term which is usually due to work related issues. As you rightly said Anthony such working patterns also cause instability for families, children, families. teams and colleagues. So the question is how do we as a department move forward. This is one for the Government to sort out, not that they have done a good job so far and continually make decisions that impact on the front line staff in a negative way. I do not believe that this issue will be resolved anytime soon. We need more money, less cuts, realistic case loads, bigger teams,more support, less complicated assessments and IT systems, more dialogue with front line social workers to hear how we feel, what we need and to hear what does and doesn’t work.