Does Canada build twice as many homes with half as many people?

19 May 2014

"there are not sufficient houses built in the UK ... there are half as many people in Canada as in the UK, the same number of houses are built every year in Canada — sorry, twice as many houses are built every year in Canada as in the UK, which just gives you a sense of the orders of magnitude of the supply problems."

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, Murnaghan, 18 May 2014

Both the government and the opposition agree there is a housing shortage in the UK. Yesterday, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney joined the chorus as well.

But the Governor's comments on the Murnaghan programme appear to confuse the UK with England. The UK has close to double Canada's population, but England more closely matches Mr Carney's house building comparison.

The Governor's office told Full Fact that Mr Carney was making a general point about the UK as a whole and structural supply challenges in the UK housing market, involving a small degree of rounding. But the figures it supplied referred to England alone, rather than for the UK as a whole.

More than half as many people

There were estimated to be 34.8 million people living in Canada in 2012. In the UK, there were an estimated 63.7 million in 2012, 53.5 million of whom were in England. On any comparison, then, Canada boasts a few more people relative to the UK than the Governor makes out.

Less than double as many homes built

The most recent UK-wide data is for 2012, which shows we completed around 144,000 homes, of which 115,000 were built in England. Meanwhile around 180,000 homes were built in Canada that year - so about 1.2 times that of the UK or 1.6 times the number in England.

So on the latest estimates the UK builds around 2.3 homes per 1,000 people. Canada builds 5.2 per 1,000 people (both Canada and the UK have similar average household sizes too). So the rate per person is about double that of the UK.

It's a recent trend however. The UK built more homes than Canada in 2007 and throughout much of the 1990s.

On this evidence, it's certainly the case that Canada builds more homes than the UK, which is an even starker comparison given the large population difference. But there aren't as many as twice the number being built - even comparing Canada to England alone.

Is Canada an outlier?

Whatever the different sets of figures say, we still need to be cautious in making international comparisons. Not all countries measure house building in the same way, so it's not always easy to compare the records of different administrations.

The most recent comparable data we've seen is gathered by the EU's statistics agency Eurostat, although data for most countries - including the UK - is missing, and it's limited to showing EU member states.

In any case, Canada's house building rate of 5.2 per 1,000 people is higher than any EU country for which there are figures (even back in 2009, which the EU figures show). The Netherlands is closest: they build 5 homes per 1,000 inhabitants. The UK's 2.3, contrastingly, equals the lowest on the list - in Estonia. The data is too limited however to draw any helpful conclusions about the UK's relative performance.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.