Workforce, Pensions and Training

08.04.19

Councils spending hundreds of millions of pounds on agency social workers

Local authorities spent a total of £335m last year hiring agency social workers, with some now employing up to half of their children’s social care workforce using private companies.

A number of councils have spent tens of millions of pounds on agency social workers as authorities struggle to recruit permanent staff to meet growing demand, costing them more money due to higher hourly rates.

Data obtained via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from the Guardian shows that, as of September last year, 26 authorities hired more than 30% of their children’s social workers from private agencies.

Swindon Council used the highest proportion of agency staff at 47.5%, with councils in England on average recruiting 15% of social workers from agencies. Government figures show there were nearly 6,000 social worker vacancies in total in September last year.

The biggest spender on agency staff in this department was Northamptonshire County Council, which has been plagued by numerous financial woes including spending bans and government commissioners, although it has recently improved.

The county council spent £12m last year, but it stressed it had managed to reduce its agency workers by 23% since 2017.

A report from the National Audit Office in January found that nearly every council in England overspent on children’s social care last year, with authorities expected to spend £4.2bn in total on children in care in 2018-19.

The report warned that children in need of protection were being exposed to neglect, abuse or harm because of the DfE’s lack of understanding around the rapidly growing demand in children’s social care.

Nadhim Zahawi, minister for children and families, said in a statement: “There are more full-time equivalent social workers than ever before, which means there are more dedicated people on the front line to offer much needed support to some of the most vulnerable children and families in the country."

“Agency staff can play a vital role in managing short-term recruitment needs, fluctuations in demand or to support improvement. We are supporting the recruitment and training of social workers so they have the skills they need for this important job.”

Image credit - PeopleImages

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