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Written by George Owen

The Splash: Are Locums Fuelling The UK Social Care Crisis?

A recent investigation by The Guardian has revealed that agency workers are making up nearly half of all the social care staff at some local authorities.

As the crisis in social care recruitment becomes increasingly acute, the investigation showed that councils are relying on agency workers more than ever to bridge the gaps yet to be filled by permanent workers. Nearly one-fifth of all local authorities now recruit more than 30% of their Social Workers from agencies, in comparison to a national average of 15%. Councils including Lambeth, Tameside, Croydon, and Swindon reported that locum workers made up 39%, 43%, 47%, and 48% of their staff respectively.

Despite the papers best efforts to devalue agency work in social care, it’s worth noting that temporary staff often work away from home, commute long distances and do not benefit from many financial perks included in permanent employment. Temporary Social Workers are thereby qualified to receive higher salaries and councils are now spending millions to cover their ‘shortfalls’.

Why are locum Social Workers entitled to higher pay rates?

We have been providing incredible Social Workers across the UK for over 8 years, so we know a thing or two about life as a locum. Locums are entitled to higher pay rates for a whole host of reasons, but just for the attention of those who disagree, here’s a list:

  • Risk & uncertainty: Despite recruiter’s best efforts to proactively find new contracts, all locums must accept there is a risk of unpaid gaps in their employment. 
  • Travel costs: Many temporary Social Workers are funding accommodation away from home or are commuting long distances to work every day.
  • Absence pay: Locums are not paid for events that are often out of their hands, including sickness, compassionate leave and holiday.
  • Relocations: Locums can find it challenging to build strong relationships at work when they are always on the move and never truly settled in a team.
  • Added pressure: Locums are expected to hit the ground running in surroundings that are entirely new to them.
  • Financial responsibility: Agency Social Workers process their own finances, including timesheets and tax returns.
  • Income deductions: Unlike permanent staff, locums must pay employers national insurance and umbrella fees.

Why is there a recruitment crisis in social care? 

The current plight of social care recruitment is down to a perfect storm of increased budget cuts, political turmoil, and growing stress on services.

A prolonged period of government cuts has put pressure on both local councils and the public. Care providers no longer have the budget to pay the wages required to attract and retain permanent staff, leading thousands of carers to turn to higher paid locum work.

Currently, 400,000 social care workers opt to leave the sector every year; twice the average for other industries. 80% of care providers have identified low wages as the main reason for leaving with surging caseloads and a lack of support also cited.

This same period of austerity has put similar pressure on the UK public, with many more relying on social care due to an ageing population and increased poverty. Last year, the number of children being submitted into care grew to an all-time high.

Last but not least, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the rights of EU workers are having a huge impact on recruitment in social care. Currently, one in six roles in Social Care are filled by overseas workers, with the majority of these coming from EU countries. If the promised government crackdown on low-paid EU workers comes into fruition after Brexit, the sector could be faced with an even greater shortfall to cover.

With the same issues echoed across the NHS, pressure on our healthcare services is mounting.

Will things get better for Social Workers?

Steps are being taken to improve the situation for Social Workers, with some local councils introducing training and wellbeing initiatives to improve working conditions and make a career in care more attractive.

The Department of Health and Social Care has also promised £3m towards a drive to promote social care careers via advertising and recruitment events.

However, many care providers are dubious about the effectiveness of the drive. They say that the problem lies less with recruitment, more with the progressively worsening working conditions and salaries social care workers are facing.

Until real steps are taken to improve these conditions, it looks like our healthcare services will have to continue to rely on agency workers for the foreseeable future.

Seven Social Care continues to fight for UK Social Workers

Seven Social Care is one of the leading providers of social care staff in the UK, and we are extremely proud of that. The papers and their friends in government do not always understand the true nature of social care, so we work tirelessly to create a support platform for Social Workers, offering them the freedom to choose roles that pay what they deserve.

We are on a mission to bring job satisfaction and security back to the Social Care industry. If you are interested in a social care role you will love, browse our permanent and temporary social care jobs or upload your CV here.

If you are a Social Worker who is considering a switch to temporary work, speak to one of our recruitment experts on 0333 200 5424 to get all the information you need. No sign-up, no sales pitch, just free support.