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Survey reveals house builders will need access to EU workers to meet housing targets

House builders in England are heavily reliant on foreign labour and will need continued access to skilled workers from the European Union after Brexit to meet Government housing targets, a new survey suggests.

One on five workers in the building industry is from abroad, according to a survey of its members from the Home Builders Federation.

The survey result shows that overall 19.7% of workers on house building sites across the country are not British, 56.3% of workers on London building sites are from overseas.

Over one in five of workers in the South East are from overseas while 17.9% of workers in the East of England and 10.5% in the SW are also from overseas and 15% of bricklayers are non-UK workers, rising to 48.5% in London.

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

The survey also shows 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 to 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 totally reforming to its attraction and training regimes.

But 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 the HBF said it 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 survey results to ministers and officials, as well as the Migration Advisory Committee and is asking the Government to secure the status for existing employees as quickly as possible and ensure house building roles are represented in future immigration arrangements.

‘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,’ said Stewart Baseley, HBF executive chairman.

‘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,’ he added.