The benefits and pitfalls of forging your own way

Becoming self-employed is an appealing option for staff in the
social care arena.

With an increasingly diverse range of jobs and employers, and
demand for staff still outstripping supply in social care, what are
the pros and cons of branching out on your own?

Alison Paddle, an independent children’s guardian, says most people
are driven to self-employment by workplace frustrations. The
pressures of large caseloads, covering for staff shortages, hitting
a pay ceiling and dealing with endless meetings and bureaucracy are
all issues for social work staff.

“Self-employment can allow your skills to be better recognised,
give you the freedom to use them and maybe work to a higher
quality,” she says.

Paddle adds that the independence factor for freelance social
workers is a “prized thing and one of your main selling points”,
especially where a client’s experience of a local authority social
worker is poor.

“If you work for five or six different bodies it broadens your
knowledge of practice and you realise that just because it’s done
one way over there doesn’t mean it has to be done like that here,”
she says.

Former social services director Peter Smallridge, who has now set
up his own care consultancy, says the best thing about being
self-employed is “working with different people across different
client groups”.

Ask most self-employed people what the worst part of it is and they
will say dealing with administration – whether it be filling in tax
returns, paying bills or chasing payments. “Because you have to do
it all yourself,” says Paddle.

Other cons, according to Paddle, are the isolation of working on
your own, making sure you stay up to date with the latest
developments in practice and training, and managing your time
effectively so you don’t end up working overly long hours.

Paddle says this last factor is particularly difficult to overcome
because of the fear of not getting enough work. “Some people are
never short of work, but it can be hard to get a foot in the door.
So people find they never turn down work because they worry the
phone might stop ringing tomorrow.”

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