We’re all agency workers really

A Guest Blog

There is lots of movement of social workers within Local Authority and NHS employer organisations. Times change, different agendas and different prerogatives mean people move on.

A common question asked when a worker joins a team these days is whether you are an agency worker or permanent staff. I’m never quite sure when asked this whether being a ‘permanent member of staff’ is better or worse than an agency worker but the question always seems like a loaded question to me; loaded with value judgments about the person being questioned.

Currently we work with lots of permanent and agency staff. Many permanent staff are great, others or not. Many agency staff are great, others are not. When I was asked this week by a new member of our team whether I was agency or permanent it made me stop and think. Who do I actually work for?

The Council? They put the money in my bank on the 15th of every month. I have training through them, I am authorised as an AMHP by them and they provide me with the tools required (sometimes) to do the job they give me the money to do. But do I work for the Council? I don’t think so. At least I have never felt like I do.

I worked within the NHS for two years. Again the Council would put my money in the bank on the 15th of the month. The NHS would provide me with the tools to do the job but the Council authorised me as an AMHP. When I was asked to do admin by my NHS manager instead of spending time supporting people I would say ‘I don’t work for the NHS, I work for the Council’. And that’s how I felt…did I work for the NHS. No.

So who do I think I work for? I work for the people who pay me, and I mean really pay me. People, citizens who pay their taxes which in turns go to the government, which then goes to the Council who then pay me. So I work for local people…The Council as my employer is merely the agency, the middleman. We’re all agency workers. The Local Authority is a servant of local people not a master over them, we work for people. Social workers are servants not masters.

When the starting point is that the person you are going to see today is your boss, have that in your head, I wonder if that power imbalance shifts at all. My dad was a skip driver; I used to go to work with him every Saturday morning for the day. On Saturday he would get paid by his boss, my dad would always say thank you and shake his hand when his boss would pay him. One day I asked my dad why he always said thank you when he was merely getting paid for what he had done. ‘Because without him paying my wages where would we be?’

I wonder if the next person I see would be happy to pay me for the service I provided them?

munby poster

2 replies on “We’re all agency workers really”

Too true. This reminds me of when we were all debating once about whether it was “citizen”, “customer” or “service user”. One of the people using services said “it should be service creator as I pay your wages”


Agree about the arrogance of some social workers in their behaviour towards agency social workers. I can understand that there may be envy; the agency SW takes home more money than the LA social worker each month, but the advantages and disadvantages of each balance out over time (annual leave, sick leave, pensions etc).

Moreover, we all make choices and must live by them. If there is a need for agency SWs, it is silly to blame the agency SW for accepting the job. Same can be said of ward staff. If they weren’t needed, there would be no market for them.

On a more positive note, agency SWs can bring a great deal of experience garnereed from working with other local authorities, they can learn which bits are the best and if treated with respect, hell, they might even share that knowledge!

But I also agree with your view as to whom we as social workers are accountable. Your blog post highlights something Rob and I used to say to students when we provided practical SW training at Uni shortly after we qualified (Christ, that was 17 years ago…) Used to point out to SW students that when practising, they are accountable to the local authority employing them, must not bring the council into disrepute, but they are also accountable to the person and their families, and also to the good name of the social work profession and they must uphold the law. Sometimes these lines of accountability can conflict.

For my money, I see it this way; the law comes first. Then the council employing me and paying my wage (point taken though about tax payers’ money) then the person and their family – though these swap places from time to time! Social work as a professional concept comes last.

Great blog post, thank you.



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