Election housebuilding stats, fact-checked

164,000 homes were completed in England in 2015/16. This is more than in recent years, but still below the 2007/08 pre-recession peak of 200,000

Housing may not be as centre-stage as in previous General Elections, but it still needs to be a top priority for any would-be Government. And while most agree that we’re not building enough new homes, there are some quite jarring claims doing the rounds about whether progress is being made, or not…

So the folks at independent fact-checking charity FullFact have taken a look at the various numbers to discover that dividing historic housebuilding performance along party political lines is a bit basic.

Firstly, some caveats:

  • The various ways of mixing and matching the figures and their geographical coverage can make it tricky to compare the records of different governments.
  • There’s also the matter of when exactly you pick your starting point. Recent elections and changes of government have taken place in May of a given year, so claims about a particular government’s record might measure from the start of that calendar year, the start of that financial year, or the start of the following year.
  • Similarly, houses completed early in the life of one government will have been started under the previous one, and it can take time before a new housing policy is introduced and has an impact on building.

N.B. Housebuilding is devolved to ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland, so the UK government is only responsible for housing in England.

Nevertheless, here’s what FullFact has found:

  • 164,000 homes were completed in England in 2015/16. This is more than in recent years, but still below the 2007/08 pre-recession peak of 200,000.
  • Taking a long view, house building has been mostly decreasing since the 1960s. The early years of this decade saw house building at its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s.

  • There are two different sets of housebuilding figures: The figures more historical figures are known to have undercounted the number of homes that have been built. Since 2006, there are more accurate figures available, and these are the one’s quoted here when we say 164,000 homes were built in 2015/16. The older measure shows only 140,000 homes completed in England in 2015/16.
  • Housebuilding starts are different from completed houses. In 2015/16 there were 142,000 started. These figures are also thought to undercount the number of homes built, but there is not a more complete set of figures on these.
  • Full United Kingdom figures can also be checked, although again these use the incomplete figure; these indicate that 168,000 homes were completed in 2015/16, and 172,000 started.
  • Perhaps more usefully, we can also look at how many houses are added to the overall stock each year, rather than just focusing on how many were built. The most complete set of figures indicates that there were 190,000 more homes in England in 2015/16 than the year before, including the 164,000 that were built from scratch. This figure also takes into account homes that are converted or are changed to residential use, having previously been something else like an office or agricultural building. It also takes into consideration the number of homes that are demolished over the year.

So, bearing in mind the opening caveats, which political faction should be believed, and who has the best track record?

The main point is that no recent political party has managed to get enough new homes delivered to meet growing demand:

  • England is projected to have 210,000 extra households per year between 2014 and 2039. A household is a person living alone or a group of people living together (such as a family), and two or more households can share one house. We don’t necessarily need one house per new household.
  • We can compare the projection to the main house building figure of 164,000 in 2015/16 or the 190,000 homes added to the stock that year.
  • In 2014 Dr Alan Holmans, a housing expert at the University of Cambridge, produced new estimates of the housing gap. They were based on 2011 data but took housing conversions, second homes and vacancies into account.
  • His analysis suggests that we need to build about 170,000 additional private sector houses and 75,000 social sector houses each year—in total, an extra 240,000-250,000 houses each year, excluding any reductions in the existing housing stock.