embargo, agency working arrangements, social care practice, employment
In Ireland, the austerity era of recent years brought (un)employment to the fore in a manner not seen since the 1980s. Within the arena of health and social care, this was epitomised by the ‘embargo’. Confined within an embargo process, recruitment agencies became a first choice response to maintaining service delivery in a deepening recessionary period. Located against this backdrop, this study explored agency-working arrangements in social care through the use of semi-structured interviews with service provider managers (n=3) and agency social care workers (n=6). Analysed using a variation of conventional content analysis; these interviews reveal a central tension between the flexibility afforded by agency working arrangements and the instability that such arrangements can foster. Although flexibility and variety in agency based employment arrangements can be beneficial for service providers, and in certain stages of career development for social care practitioners, underlying tensions arise within such working arrangements, which have a particular resonance for the social care profession. Most notably, the relationship based nature of social care practice can be disturbed by a restructuring of traditional employment pathways, especially in relation to continuity of care and practitioner support and development. Nonetheless, the findings also reveal that the extent of disruption is being dampened by adaptions to the agency process by service provider managers and social care workers through a ‘pooling’ approach to agency staffing. As such, the findings of this study both reflect common themes form literature surrounding agency working, while also observing subtle nuances. The implications of agency working for social care practice are considered, as are potential longer-term impacts given the context of impending registration of social care workers.