I originally decided to become an agency social worker because I was tired of having to teach agency staff to do basic things, while they were getting paid double what I was as a permanent member of staff. But since I’ve started working for myself, I’ve discovered some unexpected benefits to social work without the employer.
Making the leap to go agency wasn’t easy. I was always scared of the prospect of not being a permanent staff member. You’ve got to set up a limited company which can take weeks to do, and you no longer have an employer, the same level of job security, holiday pay or sick leave. I was motivated to do it at first because living in London, having a mortgage and wanting to be able to save a bit of money was proving too gruelling on a permanent social worker’s salary.
But for all the fear factor, going agency has turned out to be a positive experience. In my local authority I’m treated more or less like a permanent staff member when it comes to training, and I now earn enough to pay for extra training myself if I want it.
Since I’ve gone agency I’ve progressed from a senior social worker to a team manager role. If I was permanent I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to do what I’m doing now. When you’re permanent you’re involved a lot more with the bureaucracy and the office politics, whereas when you’re agency you just come in and you do your job.
As a permanent member of staff you’re very entrenched in everything that’s going on and that means sometimes you feel things more. I’m a lot more relaxed than when I was permanent. I know that at any point if I wanted to I could leave within a week and get a new job.
However, despite having moved over to working for an agency, I really do promote permanency and I think it’s important for local authorities. Having a lot of agency social workers who up and leave in the middle of working with a child can be dangerous, and it leaves that child’s life in a mess.
If local authorities want a stable workforce, they need to be paying their permanent social workers more. It doesn’t make any sense to me that a council can waste so much money on agency staff and not pay their permanent workforce properly.
I don’t plan to be agency forever. One day I’ll want to have children, and when that time comes I’d like more stability. If I could earn what I do now as an agency worker in a permanent role, I’d go back tomorrow. But for now, agency work is the right choice for me.