University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

The Role of Agency Social Work in England: a Case Study

Unwin, Peter ORCID: (2013) The Role of Agency Social Work in England: a Case Study. PhD thesis, University of Warwick.


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This study explored the views and perceptions about agency social work in England. At its core is the first known case study of adult services social work teams in a rural local authority. The case study took place over the period 2008- 2010 and used qualitative methodology to capture perspectives from agency and employed social workers, agency and employed managers and agency and employed administrative staff. Agency social work was seen to have developed from a background of deteriorating conditions in local government employment and in the absence of effective and flexible workforce planning. Labour process theory provided a meaningful framework to help explore the phenomenon of agency social work within a public sector increasingly dominated by markets and managerialism. A directional tendency towards a degraded workplace was noted despite some perceptions of upskilling in respect of agency social workers. A range of explanations regarding the motivation and the experiences of agency social workers was found that largely supported previous case study findings from urban local authorities. The roles carried out by employed social workers under the care management system were indistinguishable from those of agency social workers, several agency social workers having remained in post for periods of two years or more. No ways of working were identified as being particularly tailored to a rural context. The antipathy toward agency social workers noted in previous case studies was largely absent in the rural case study and agency social workers were not perceived as part of the private sector. Issues regarding the cost-effectiveness of agency social work and its affect on service users and carers were inconclusive. Recommendations for further research were made and agency social work was seen as being likely to remain as a core feature of modernised social work while vacancies remain high and alternative models for contingency workforce planning remain absent.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:

The full-text can be accessed via the Official URL.

Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: agency social work, adult services, qualitative methodology, social work, workforce planning,
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Divisions: College of Health, Life and Environmental Sciences > School of Allied Health and Community
Depositing User: Karol Kosinski
Date Deposited: 26 Jun 2017 13:54
Last Modified: 01 Feb 2021 04:00

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