Brexit warning: Half of London’s housebuilding workforce from overseas

More than half of workers on housebuilding sites in London are from the EU or abroad, while one in five across England are from overseas, a new survey commissioned by UK housebuilders reveals.

Highlighting the sector’s reliance on foreign-born workers as Brexit looms, the survey says 19.7% of workers on housebuilding sites across the country are ‘non UK’ and that 56.3% of workers on London sites are from overseas.

Workers from Romania outnumber all others, comprising just under 54% of the foreign-born workforce.

Workers from Poland came next, at just below 12%, then those from Ireland (9.7%), Lithuania (7.7%) and Bulgaria (6.3%), with a long list of other countries whose nationals comprise less than 2.5% of the foreign-born housebuilding workforce.

Romanian workers comprise 7.29% of the total housebuilding workforce. They are followed by those from Poland with 1.53% and Lithuania at 1.32%.

The survey was carried out among 37,167 workers on more than 1,000 sites of members of the Home Builders Federation (HBF), which said the results show the sector’s reliance on overseas workers, and the need for continued access to those workers after Brexit.

"The results of this census clearly demonstrate the reliance the industry currently has on non-UK workers," said HBF executive chairman Stewart Baseley. "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."

The UK construction industry has long been criticised for under-investment in training, with last year’s review, "Modernise or Die" by Mark Farmer, referring to the sector’s "dysfunctional training funding and delivery model".

Baseley insisted the industry was "investing heavily in recruiting and training young people", but added that "continued access to overseas workers is absolutely essential".

Among the survey’s findings were:

  • 19.7% of workers on housebuilding 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 South East are from overseas;
  • 17.9% of workers in the East of England and 10.5% in the South West are from overseas;
  • In Yorkshire/Humber just 1.8% are non-UK; 5.9% in the North West;
  • 15% of bricklayers are non-UK workers (48.5% in London).

According to official statistics, 12.6% of general construction workers across the UK are born overseas, of which 5.7% are from EU-accession countries.

The HBF survey suggests the reliance of housebuilding on overseas labour is heavier than the wider construction industry.

The survey also showed the increasing risk the industry faces from an ageing workforce and how the potential reliance on EU workers will grow in the coming years.

While more than 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.

Image: UK housing development under construction in 2016 (Stephen Davidson/Dreamstime)

Story for GCR? Get in touch via email: [email protected]

Latest articles in News