Last year, when the tax rules for agency social workers changed, there was a lot of talk of people being persuaded back into permanent local authority positions. For me, they’ve resulted in my re-evaluating my situation and leaving statutory social work altogether.
I qualified as an adults’ social worker about a decade ago, working around various local authorities in the south of England and rising to team management level before taking redundancy with a view to going agency.
I had always believed in my role as a social worker in statutory services and felt passionate about supporting, enabling and empowering service users. But successive years of austerity took their toll on resources and services at my local authority.
Decisions were no longer based on the legal framework but were driven by finances, while multiple restructures had an impact on the stability of my service, with a significant reduction in staff – and morale.
There were too few senior managers with an in-depth understanding of the law and, to be honest, who actually cared. Support packages and reviews rested on managers’ arbitrary decisions and there were wholesale diktats such as ‘we don’t do washing, laundry or cleaning’, which led to poor living conditions and outcomes for service users.
Taking redundancy was a difficult decision – it was like giving up – but the reality is I felt battered and bruised, and that I needed to take charge of life.
Care Act dismissed
As an agency worker I went back into frontline practice, but ended up once again managing a team – at a lovely county council, with a good work-life balance.
Being agency gave me more of a feeling of control. I knew I could walk away, even though doing so felt unlikely as I was happy in my work, and the higher take-home pay enabled me to plan for breaks.
Unlike where I’d worked in my last permanent job, this council properly interpreted the Care Act, taking into account what people’s needs were and not making assumptions about what they could and couldn’t do. It was a settled and positive place to work.
Then funding problems, which are now hitting so many authorities, arrived there too – exacerbated by money being diverted into children’s services in the wake of a bad Ofsted report.
A new director came in, who was not from a social work background, and the whole working culture changed, with the principles of the Care Act being openly dismissed.
Funding panels were also introduced suddenly, mostly staffed by finance people and commissioners who issued demoralising cost-driven decisions to social workers who had put in months or years of work with people they were supporting.
Within six months the whole senior leadership team went – and as a result social workers were also leaving in droves, while others went on sick leave because they were sinking under their caseloads.
With the council also cutting back on agency staff, I was one of those who left – and ended up back as a temp at one of my former permanent employers, just as the IR35 legislation, affecting how agency workers can manage their taxes, was changing.
Source: ‘Leaving the statutory sector after IR35, I feel I’ve gone back to proper social work’ : Community Care