What will happen to vulnerable children if we lose the locum workforce?

Senior interim Julie Penny raises concern about locums leaving the social work profession as a result of IR35 legislation

Published on 10th April 2017

Locum social workers should not feel forced to ‘go permanent or leave’ organisations – and potentially the profession, a senior locum social worker has warned.

Julie Penny, social care consultant and former interim assistant director, has said she is ‘saddened’ when she hears of experienced social workers feeling that they are being manipulated into taking permanent posts ‘or go’ and are making the decision to leave the profession as a result of the new IR35 legislation which came into force last week.

The IR35 legislation is being introduced in a bid by the government to target people who are not genuinely self-employed. HMRC believes there is an estimated £500m due in taxes and is first targeting the front line of the public sector in a bid to claw back some of these taxes.

Ms Penny, who has been in the social work profession for 25 years in posts from social work assistant to assistant director, said she fears that the social work profession may lose talented locum social workers as a result of IR35 being introduced, particularly as there is much confusion around the legislation. Speaking at a recent Locum Today event in Birmingham, tax expert Jon Millar urged locum social workers to seek expert advice on their IR35 status. 

“There is a common misnomer that it is down to ‘supervision, direction and control,’ – it is infinitely more complex than that,” says Millar. “Critically, the responsibility for defining your IR35 status now sits with the public sector body.”

HMRC have introduced an online status tool whereby locums answer several questions to determine their status, although early reports have deemed the tool as “not fit for purpose”.

Ms Penny said: “It is really good to be back in Birmingham and to meet up with some past colleagues and friends at this interesting and thought provoking event”

“Having the chance to chair the Q&A panel allowed me to both hear Hugh Disley, a local independent Consultant in the West Midlands who spoke about making the transition to being self-employed, Jonathon Jones from the HCPC, who told us more about preparing CPD evidence and Jon Millar, from ContractingWISE who equally, told us more complicated facets of IR35 and to think about how each of the three views link closely to how the profession is struggling to understand the totality and individuality of this challenge. .  

“I was struck by how insightful and interesting but also so open to interpretation all the information shared was,” said Ms Penny. “In summing up I was pleased to open the floor to the delegates – who again brought more questions than answers to the shared space.”

However Ms Penny said the debate leaves unanswered questions around what this new arena of change means for locum social workers, the profession as a whole and service users. “What will the future hold for those of us who chose, for so many reasons, to be self-employed and what value does this place on having choice in the way we work?” she added.

“As a practice leader who worked in employed positions for 25 years and has been a consultant for six years, I have seen the best and most exciting of both worlds. I remain assured by the overwhelming resilience of those who chose in practice social work, work to support and develop others and to lead and inspire on a daily basis,” said Ms Penny.

“I am sure that we will weather this storm, that we will learn how this is meant to benefit the purpose of our workforce and make it happen but I am also saddened when I hear of great social workers feeling that they are being manipulated into taking permanent posts or leaving and are making the decision to leave the profession and embarking on other entrepreneurial adventures completely outside of social work,” she said.

“In my experience, locum social workers have been the workers who start early, who finish late, who bring the experience to take on the more complex cases. I hope someone is talking to government about what will happen to vulnerable children if we lose more good people from the workplace,” she warned.

“I regret that IR35 being targeted at front line workers is an easy swipe rather than a step further toward a flexible and cooperative workforce that meets the needs of all social workers and values difference fairly. A missed chance perhaps?” Ms Penny concluded.

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