Use of agency social workers up 25% year on year in adults’ services

Agency staff accounted for a third of the rise in the number of adult social workers in English councils from 2022-23, shows official data

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Local authorities’ use of agency social workers in adults’ services rose by a quarter from September 2022 to September 2023, official figures have shown.

Councils employed about 1,900 locum adult social workers in September 2023, compared with around 1,500 a year earlier, according to Skills for Care figures.

This meant their share of the workforce rose from 9% to 10%, broadly in line with the social worker vacancy rate at the time (10.5%). Locums also accounted for one third of the increase in the number of adult social workers directly or indirectly employed by authorities during this time.

Record numbers of adult social workers

This rose from 17,300 to 18,500, the highest level ever recorded, in the year to September 2023.

Aside from using more agency staff, councils also increased their number of directly employed social workers, from 15,500 to 16,200. There was also a small rise in councils’ use of bank staff.

The growth in the workforce came on the back of a £2bn (10%) real-terms increase in budgeted spending on adults’ services in 2023-24.

Extra funding ‘welcome but not enough’

This was enabled by the government diverting money from reforming the social care charging system to frontline services, and permitting authorities to raise council tax by 5% this year without a referendum, with some of the proceeds ring-fenced for adults’ services.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said the extra funding had enabled councils to hire more social workers to cut “historically high waiting lists” and respond to people’s “increasingly complex needs”.

However, it warned that the funding was “not nearly enough”, and that vacancy rates for social workers were still high, at 10.5%.

Shift towards more NQSWs

The association also pointed to a shift in make-up of the directly employed workforce towards more newly qualified staff because of councils’ struggles recruiting more experienced social workers.

This was evidenced by Skills for Care recording 1,700 adult social workers starting the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) in 2023, up from 1,300 in 2021, said ADASS.

Adult social workers in English councils: September 2023

  • Total workforce: 18,500, up from 17,300 in September 2022.
  • Directly employed: 16,200, up from 15,500 a year earlier.
  • Indirectly employed: 2,300 social workers, up from 1,800.
  • Agency staff: 1,900 (10% of workforce), up from 1,500 (9%).
  • Vacant posts: 1,900 (10.5%), down from 2,000 (11.6%).
  • Starters: 3,000 in year to September 2023, up from 2,500 the previous year.
  • Leavers: 2,400 in year to September (14.5%), down from 2,600 (17.1%).
  • Sick days per worker: 11 in 2022-23, down from 12.1 in 2021-22.
  • Average pay: £41,500 in September 2023, down from £41,700 (in real terms) in September 2022.

Source: The workforce employed by adult social services departments in England (Skills for Care, 2024)


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