We need more skilled labour if we are to tackle the housing crisis

For this article, I spoke with our Business Manager, Mark Grove, about his concerns for housing in the UK:

“The news that England needs three million new social homes by 2040 to tackle the housing crisis makes for sober reading.

The recommendation by a cross-party commission to the UK government follows a year-long investigation, launched in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

At BRC, we welcome this timely report which highlights a pressing need that is currently not being addressed. But we also need to ensure that we have the skilled labour to achieve these ambitious targets.

While the figures are poles apart from the current targets – three million new social homes by 2040 is nearly 143,000 per year compared to just over 6,000 currently – it does highlight how much needs to be done in order to get closer to the projected need.

If the sector is to achieve even a fraction of this target, then investment has to be channelled right now into offering incentives and opportunities for housing associations to develop where they will not be restrained by having to compete with private sector developers.

Private developers buy up the best sites and have in the past used viability appraisals to downgrade the percentage of social housing that is included in developments.

The Grenfell tragedy has highlighted the fact that more people are in need of social housing than ever before. They’re not just those in dire social need but also those in key worker jobs who can’t afford to own a property and who are stuck in poorly maintained and regulated private rented accommodation.

So now is the perfect time for the sector to move to expand and provide the services that are so desperately needed. But how do we achieve this? It’s not just a matter of providing the £225bn in funding, there are also the labour implications to think about.

There is already a shortage of skilled labour in the country and there’s also uncertainty about migrant labour being able to work freely in the UK in the coming years. We, therefore, need to address this in order to make sure that if the money is provided to fund the building, we have the human resources to carry out the works.

Apprenticeships will assist with this and many housing associations are providing excellent apprenticeship schemes. But the government also needs to provide more funding to guide students into construction trades which it hasn’t done in the past, which is why we have been reliant on migrant workers making up the numbers.

A report by the ONS in August 2018 stated that non-UK nationals accounted for 13% (109,000) of workers in the UK’s construction of buildings sub-sector: 8% were EU8 and EU2 nationals, 3% non-EU nationals and 2% EU15 and EU other nationals (excluding the UK).

So, if we’re to get anywhere close to these new figures, ministers need to take action now to make sure we have the labour we need to build our way out of this devastating housing crisis.”

Thanks for reading.