Why Brexit Could Spell Bad News for The UK Construction Industry


Housing in the UK is in greater demand than it has ever been, and with a rapidly increasing population that’s not going to change any time soon. Construction firms are working hard to keep up with housing need but since many construction workers come from other parts of the EU, Brexit is causing major concerns in the industry.

“The sector employs between 2 and 3 million workers, many of whom are not British” says Nationwide skip hire firm, Proskips. Barratt Homes, one of the largest and best known construction firms in the UK, estimates that between 30% and 40% of its workforce comes from mainland Europe. If these workers are deported, that means crisis in an industry that is already subject to a significant skills shortage.

Industry bodies are urging the Government to give construction workers from outside of Britain the right to “settled status” in a bid to avoid an even bigger housing crisis. They are not only asking for this to be granted to workers who are currently in the country, but for any who come over before we completely leave the EU.

In the ten year period leading up to 2011, the number of migrant workers more than doubled. In just 2015, over 50,000 extra bricklayers were drafted in to help with the Government’s plans to build 200,000 new homes every year. “And it’s not just bricklayers where we have an indigenous skills shortage- we also bring in plasterers, labourers, carpenters, joiners and architects from EU countries” Eden Harper told us.

Whilst the common negative opinion is that UK construction firms employ migrant workers because they are cheaper, the reality is that we do not have sufficient skills in our own country.

In an industry that is so reliant on labour from the European Union, it’s understandable that people are becoming increasingly concerned about what the future holds. The uncertainty is also impacting on investment, with high net worth individuals and companies more anxious about letting go of their money until things settle down.

According to 2014 figures from the Construction Industry Training Board, the breakdown of EU workers was as follows:

  • Poland: 30,120
  • Romania: 24,842
  • Lithuania: 7,569
  • India: 7,704
  • Bulgaria: 5,443
  • Latvia: 3,830
  • South Africa: 1,316
  • Hungary: 1,448
  • Australia: 937

A spokesperson from the Home Office said the government would be putting a new immigration system in place which works for the whole of the UK, and that the plans will be announced shortly. There will be an implementation period in early 2019 that the Government claim will prevent any major catastrophes for businesses, allowing EU citizens who are already working here to stay.

The Home Office spokesperson also said that the UK was close to an agreement with the EU on citizens’ rights. That said, the UK construction sector showed a decrease in size for the first time in 13 years this September.

In September activity in the UK construction sector contracted for the first time in 13 months, according to a closely watched survey. The survey found that the commercial property industry was affected by political and economic uncertainty.

Assetgrove summarises- “Brexit has caused a lot of uncertainty for the UK economy, and with the threat of a huge proportion of workers possibly having to leave an already struggling industry, it’s no surprise that people are worried about what it means for housing.”

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