There’s one myth in the building trade which needs dispelling — if you’re building within the M25 corridor, don’t fear, you won’t be paying tradespeople almost double that paid elsewhere. With higher overheads, a plumber, electrician, carpenter or any other trade in this region is likely to charge more on an hourly or daily basis, but the ‘divide’ between north and south is not as wide as you may think.

It was acceptable in the 80s

This north-south divide in trade rates certainly existed in the 1980s. I should know — I was part of it for five years. In 1984, northern tradespeople could more than double their wages by going south. The ‘going rate’ in Manchester for a joiner (my trade) in 1984 was £36 per day, or £4.50 per hour. I can remember it like yesterday as I was always pushing to get that magical £5 per hour — I wanted the same pay as a plumber at £200 a week!

Everything was different in London. As a carpenter and joiner there was plenty of work, the pay was £8 per hour and if you were lucky you could get extra for lodgings. With unlimited hours my wages more than doubled. I went from £180 a week to £500. (Even then, a plumber was paid £1 per hour more than a joiner, something that still grates with me today.)

No more north-south divide

Fast forward to 2016 — 32 years later, the rest of the UK has clearly caught up. The north-south divide no longer exists, especially with labour-only subcontractors.

Estimators Limited is home to the UK’s longest running and most comprehensive database of material and labour. All of our small builder customers provide us with the rates they pay tradespeople, and our self build and extension customers kindly update these rates regularly online, too. As such, we know the going rate for tradespeople in any location in the UK.

Current average UK rates

I am pleased to share with you the current average UK rates for carpenters and joiners on the map below. What’s more, we’ve compared rates for carpenters and joiners and plumbers in 2016, with those in 1984 (see chart) – the results highlight that the north-south divide has significantly diminished.

Based on an eight-hour day North West London
(inside M25)
% Difference
Joiner 1984  £36  £64  78%
Joiner 2016  £161  £186  15%
Plumber 1984  £40  £72  80%
Plumber 2016  £174  £190  9%

You’ll note on the map below that the rates for carpenters and joiners in Scotland are higher than other northern regions, where they are paid 7% more than the national average – likely to be the result of timber frame being so predominant in Scottish housebuilding.

map of labour rates in UK

This map illustrates the different day rates paid for carpenters and joiners across
the UK

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