Research illustrates importance of foreign labour in UK housebuilding

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Housebuilders in the UK are heavily reliant on foreign labour and will need continued access to skilled EU workers post Brexit to deliver the Government’s housing targets a new census of the workforce shows

The Home Builders Federation (HBF) has carried out the survey of 37,167 workers on over a thousand (1,090) of its members’ sites. It revealed:

  • 19.7% of workers on house building sites across the country are ‘non-UK’
  • 56.3% of workers on London sites are from overseas
  • Over 1 in 5 of workers in the SE are from overseas
  • 17.9% of workers in the East of England and 10.5% in the SW are from overseas
  • In Yorkshire/Humber just 1.8% are non-UK; 5.9% in the NW
  • 15% of bricklayers are non-UK workers (48.5% in London)
  • Non-UK workers tend to be younger with less as a % over 50.

Official statistics suggest that 12.6% of general construction workers across the UK are foreign-born, of which 5.7% are from EU-accession countries. The census suggests the reliance of housebuilding on foreign labour is heavier than the wider construction industry. With housebuilding being a key priority for Government, the industry is calling on ministers to recognise the needs of house builders.

The census shows that reliance on foreign labour is the heaviest in the South East, where housing demand is acutest, and in-particular London where over half of workers are from abroad. With housing supply in the capital at its highest since the 1930s but still well short of what is needed, safeguarding and growing this workforce is of vital importance.

The census also highlighted the increasing risk the industry faces from an ageing workforce and how the potential reliance on EU workers will grow in the coming years. Whilst over 22% of UK passport holders working in the industry are over 50, only 10% of EU workers are in that age bracket. Around 70% from the EU are in the 20-39 age group compared to only around a half of those born in the UK.

The house building industry has increased output by 74% in the past four years and last year saw 217,000 additions to the housing stock. The industry has recruited and trained tens of thousands of UK based workers in recent years and is committed to reforming to its attraction and training regimes.  However, with Government setting a challenging target of 300,000 additional homes a year by 2025 industry capacity remains a huge challenge. As the industry looks to increase output HBF will be working with ministers and officials to ensure that existing capacity is not threatened while builders continue to work to attract the next generation of home builders into the industry.

The industry has provided the census to ministers and officials, as well as the Migration Advisory Committee and is asking Government to:

  • Secure the status for existing employees as quickly as possible
  • Ensure house building roles are represented in future immigration arrangements.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, said: “The results of this census clearly demonstrate the reliance the industry currently has on non-UK workers. Output is up a massive 74% in recent years but achieving the very challenging targets set by Government will require further big increases in workforce capacity. Whilst the industry is investing heavily in recruiting and training young people leaving our schools, colleges and universities, continued access to overseas workers is absolutely essential.”

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