Opinion – Mental Health Meltdown

507 construction workers – 503 of them men – took their own lives in 2021. That means the suicide rate within the construction sector is now almost four times the national average.

It is worth noting that this marked a rise on the previous year that was the very height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, those 507 construction workers took their own lives during a period of surprising stability within the sector.
Having been granted key worker status, construction and demolition soldiered on throughout the pandemic. Some companies were aided by the Government’s Recovery Loan Scheme while the industry itself was propped up by a house-building sector that was contributing somewhere between a third and a half of all UK construction contracts month-on-month.

Despite high workloads that saw wages rise and relative stability across the sector, 507 people within the industry still felt they were unable to continue.

So what happens now that a group of financial experts are predicting that the UK construction sector could experience some 6,000 company insolvencies over the coming year? There is no key worker status to signify the Government’s reliance upon construction to keep the wheels of industry turning. There is no Recovery Loan Scheme. And the house-building sector appears to have finally buckled under the weight of carrying construction for the past four or five years.

In the past week, two of the house-building sector’s biggest players – Barratt Homes and Persimmon Homes – reacted to a slowing in demand by scaling back their new site openings. The ripples of that will be felt far and wide.

It will be felt within the demolition sector with potentially fewer projects to clear the way for new houses. It will be felt in both the materials and plant sector too – Fewer homes means less need for bricks, blocks, timber, steel and the equipment to move them.

But a downshift will be felt most keenly among workers who will likely see job security become job insecurity; stability become instability – The perfect breeding ground for the stress and anxiety that can lead some onto a downward mental health path.

It gets worse. The prevailing economic conditions means that now would be a terrible time to find yourself unemployed. The nation is in the midst of a cost of living crisis. Even those in stable employment are struggling to make ends meet. There is no worse time for your career prospects to go through the floor than when the cost of living is through the roof. So what hope is there for those that are unfortunate enough to find themselves temporarily cast aside by an industry that continues to make bold claims about its commitment to mental health awareness.

There have been suggestions that the current slowing in demand and workload could be just a blip; and that any recession would be short-lived and shallow.

We can only hope that the term short-lived applies purely to the industry’s finances and not to its workforce; and that a shallow recession will be less than six feet deep.