Small Data: Can you do construction work from home?

Bricklayer Image copyright Thinkstock

Do you remember the old joke about how even plumbers don't make house calls any more, asks Anthony Reuben.

Well there may be some truth in it if last week's report on home working from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is to be believed.

The report said that 13.9% of people employed in the UK work from home, which was the highest rate since it started recording the figures in 1998.

Since the figures include either working from home or from the grounds of your home, it is no surprise that top of the list of home workers were agricultural workers, about 60% of whom work from home.

The next set of workers on the list was more of a surprise. It turns out that 35% of construction workers work from home.

Looking through the full SIC2007 listings for what counts as construction work doesn't help much. It doesn't seem to include much work that could be done away from a site at all. It does, however, include plumbing installation, so the old joke stands.

So who could these people be? If you watch much daytime television you'll have seen programmes about people buying properties to do up and then selling them. I dare say some of them live in the property at the same time, but it's hard to imagine that accounting for the thousands of workers involved here.

Steve Murphy, general secretary of construction union UCATT, says: "This figure has no credibility - the vast majority of construction workers clearly do not work from home."

He reckons the figure is a product of an industry in which 40% of workers are officially self-employed, but should really be classified as being employed.

"In these cases workers may well claim to work from home as they have no other address to give," he says.

Incidentally, in line with the subject of this article, I am writing it from home.

Update 12 June: The ONS has amended its report to remove a suggestion, which we included in our original story, that home workers usually spend at least 50% of their work time using their home.

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