August 23, 2018

UK sees dramatic drop in EU migrant workers, prompting construction industry fears

By Lucy Ingham

The UK now has the lowest levels of migration since 2012, according to government statistics released today. The drop in EU migrant workers has prompted deep concerns from the UK construction industry.

According to the Office of National Statistics Migration Statistics Quarterly Report for August 2018, net migration for the year ending March 2018 is now +87,000, down from +189,000 in 2016.

This is a particular concern for the construction industry, which relies heavily on migrant workers to fill its growing skills gap.

“This is deeply worry for those sectors that rely on workers from the EU. The drop in EU net migration is a particular problem for industries like construction,” explained Sarah McMonagle, director of external affairs at the Federation of Master Builders.

“At present, 9% of our construction workers are from the EU and therefore we are more reliant than most on EU workers. In London, this proportion rises to nearly one third.”

Decline in EU migrant workers as Brexit looms

Brexit has caused significant concerns for many EU migrant workers.

“Despite the fact that we are still operating under the free movement of people, we’re already seeing far fewer EU workers coming to the UK and a greater number leaving our shores,” said McMonagle.

“This could be due to financial reasons since the depreciation of sterling following the EU referendum, which means that if these workers are sending money home, or saving up, their UK wages are now worth less.

“It could also, quite simply, be that some EU workers no longer feel welcome.”

Construction industry concerns

Despite efforts to grow the UK’s housing stock, the British construction industry is already struggling to hire skilled workers. And this issue is only set to worsen if EU migrant workers increasingly opt not to come to the UK.

“We can’t afford to lose any more EU workers as currently two-thirds of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers and 60% are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners,” said McMonagle.

“If the Government wants its new homes and infrastructure projects built, it needs to do more to back up our industry’s message to all EU workers – they are welcome and they do have a bright future here in the UK.”