‘Most people go agency to save for a wedding or a house’

A child protection social worker reveals what it is like to switch from permanent to agency social work

Photo: lulu/Fotolia

Joanna* qualified as a social worker in 2010 and spent five years as a permanent staff member mostly in child protection teams around the South West of England.

In summer 2015 she made the switch to locum work and is now on a short-term contract as a senior children’s social worker in a team heavily stocked with agency staff.

What was her motivation? “Everyone does it for the pay,” she says. “That’s the big difference for me – I used to be on about £30,000 before tax and now earn £30 an hour. Because I’m set up as a limited company I have an accountant and now take home about £900 a week.”


But money isn’t the only driver. “If you work for a good local authority with strong supervision, support and training then you might decide to stay,” she adds. “But when you get to the point where you’re too stressed and busy for that, you think, ‘I might as well go agency’.”

While it’s often said that social workers switch to agency work for an easier life with less responsibility, Joanna says that this doesn’t represent the whole picture.

At her current council, she acknowledges, agency workers are treated well, with her overall experience being positive – but that’s because they make up the spine of the team.

“But I’ve met many others who are having to work harder because they’re agency – you come in, there’s a full, overdue caseload, you’re expected to hit the ground running,” she says.

Regional pay caps

Joanna says she’d recommend trying locum work for anyone looking to move around and get a feel for different roles.

But, she says, regional caps on agency pay that have come in over the past year or so are making more expensive parts of the country less appealing destinations than they used to be. In London, she points out, she’d now be making less per hour than she does currently despite the cost of living being far higher.

Many other locums Joanna knows have left permanent jobs to save for a short-term goal such as getting married or putting together a mortgage deposit. When personal priorities change, whether that’s wanting to start a family or to sink your teeth into a longer-term work challenge, the stability of a permanent job can regain its attraction.

Career progression

“I change my mind about what to do next,” she says. “Recently I’ve been thinking about going back to permanent work, to have the security of sick pay, annual leave and pensions, and to be able to access more training, because local authorities aren’t keen on giving that to locums.”

If you’re after moving up the ladder, she adds, permanency is probably the way forward.

“The next level for me would be to apply for a deputy management job – I could get one as an agency worker but I’d get minimal support and training,” she says. “If you want to step up, and to do something well, it’s worth going back into the local authority for those perks.”

*not her real name

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9 Responses to ‘Most people go agency to save for a wedding or a house’

  1. Hels April 8, 2016 at 7:37 am #

    Teams struggle with retention of social workers, with contracts with the Local Authority. The culture of the agency social workers , being the chosen career path is disgusting in my view, even in the short term. Local Authority resources and budget being used in this manner takes away funds that could be used on retention, training, resources for families, buildings.

    What sense of social justice is that ! Profiting out such times, is wrong

  2. Andrea April 8, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    Not her real name Joanna is clearly someone who has no plans/commitment to be in social work for a long time – she will of course revert to perm work when she wants maternity leave, using the system for her own needs.

  3. Tom Hughes April 8, 2016 at 7:00 pm #

    Don’t hate the player, hate the game. People who claim to be happy sticking around in jobs on inferior pay for altruistic reasons must have large trust funds of Cameron proportions.

    Joanna’s refusal to accept poverty pay is a positive move as it means councils need to treat people with dignity and good conditions if they want to keep them.

    The reason why councils are skint is because of a Government cutting resources.

    Nobody ever got rich in Social Work and frankly we are worth every penny.

  4. Becky April 9, 2016 at 10:36 pm #

    Dear colleagues I also work for an agency, though not as a social worker but a social worker assistant as a contact supervisor. I have been with an agency for the past 18 months providing a service to the same contact center the entire time. Nothing would please me more than working for my local authority on a permanent contract but………the powers that be who hold the purse strings feel it is not within their budget to permanently create this position.

    I do not pretend to know the ins and outs of budget holding,but when another colleague has been working in the same position as me via the agency for the past 5 years I think you can safely say there is a need for that position to be created on a permanant basis!

  5. SW 111 April 10, 2016 at 6:36 pm #

    Such judgemental views from the respondents is appalling. Some people have this high and mighty view that agency workers are motivated by money but in reality these people who hold such a view have unfortunately very limited knwoledge of the circumstances of agency workers and based on their limited knowledge they make sweeping statements.
    From my perspective agency workers are compelled to work as independent workers when they become absolutely disillusioned and frustrated with the bureaucracy, cliquey management instead of supporting the workers are defensive of their practice, ready to scapegoat and shift the responsibility onto workers and they are the ones who are there to behead the social workers. Who would like to be linked with such a local authority – under these circumstances, serving you notice period is hell.

  6. Anne-marie April 11, 2016 at 8:59 am #

    I find Joanna’s attitude concerning and not in keeping with true social work values. Money appears to be the priority. A wage of £900 a week is only the tip pf the iceberg, what about the agency fee? If the team she works in has a majority of agency workers there can be little left in their budget for service users. Captialism at work, me, me, me.

    • twinkletoes99 April 11, 2016 at 12:58 pm #

      Ouch. Why shouldn’t she?

      There are some shockingly bad Social Workers out there in both the LA and in agency but likewise, there are also some very good ones. It seems to me you perpetuate the very system of judgment and blame that makes people want to work as an agency worker in the first place.

  7. Carol April 11, 2016 at 10:02 am #

    Interesting, I don’t want a wedding or a horse I just want a decent manager and not to carry lazy colleagues that I get paid the same amount or less actually because they access training, I also like having the option of 5 days to get away from horrible, toxic environments.

  8. Kwadwo April 11, 2016 at 10:16 am #

    Why are councils paying different rate for the same work done? If councils can afford to pay agency workers £30 an hour why are they not paying permanent workers the same. That may improve the retention rate. Don’t blame Joanna, I will take the same approach as her. Social work values does not mean we shouldn’t have a mortgage or put on a lavish wedding.