From the 6th April 2017, the introduction of the ‘Off-Payroll’ changes to the intermediaries legislation changed contracting as we know it. The rules and implications of this new legislation were complex, late coming and often unclear. The new legislation almost certainly disrupted a huge number of public sector contractors as they rushed to find new payment methods.
Now we are nearly 2 months into operating with the new legislation I have noticed the beginning of a potential locum social worker evacuation from the public sector which further damages the staffing crisis that is in place already. Many locum social workers have left their contracts because of the impact the new legislation has had on their take home pay. As an agency, we have also experienced a number of social workers favouring permanent opportunities.
Perhaps my biggest concern is that this has only strengthened the on-going fear of a gigantic skill shortage to the social work sector. Local authorities are under huge pressure to make cuts to services and deliver solutions to children and adults that are more cost-effective. But at the same time the ability to deliver crucial services is effected by the number of children in care steadily rising and people living longer. Without a stable workforce there is no consistent and safe service delivery to tackle these issues.
Whilst the government felt it right to tackle what they see as tax avoidance they have failed yet again to focus on what is really wrong in social work. In the age of austerity we have seen services cut, pay freezes, poor conditions and lean staffing all whilst coping with a surge in referrals across services. To make matters worse, the social work sector is frequently vilified in the press and social workers feel like they are stood in the firing line, often in services that are operating without the right resource and as such leaving the workers vulnerable to potential problems. It doesn’t take much to realise that this is a vicious cycle that leads to stress, burnout, fear and above all a revolving door of workers leaving the profession soon after starting.
We need to be focusing on the positives of social services and recognising the challenging, emotive, and demanding roles that social workers carry out. They need the support, resources and accolade that they much deserve. Only then will we begin to see consistency of service delivery and most importantly the best possible safeguarding of vulnerable children and adults.
In my humble opinion, in times like this it is easy to forget the benefits that contracting in social work provides. Honing frontline services, fresh experiences, flexibility, control and establishing a work life balance are only a few. In a modern age of working people seek flexibility and being able to be in control of their own working schedule. Therefore temporary working in the social work sector will always remain a viable career choice and at the heart of the sector.