Conservative and Labour claims on house building fact checked

12 July 2023
What was claimed

Record levels of housing have been built under the Conservatives.

Our verdict

The number of ‘net additional dwellings’ in England has reached record highs in the last few years, but these figures only go back 30 years. Other historical data suggests higher records were set decades ago.

What was claimed

House building is at its lowest rate since the Second World War.

Our verdict

This is not what any of the different house building metrics currently show—the number of net additional dwellings, and new homes started and completed, are higher than a decade ago. However one industry projection suggests house building may hit a post-war low in the next few years.

“It is under this party that we have record levels of housing being built.”

“House building at its lowest rate since the war.”

At Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday 28 June, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claimed that “in the last three years we have delivered almost record numbers of new home building in every one of those years”. In the same exchange, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer made a seemingly contradictory claim, describing house building as “at its lowest rate since the war because [Rishi Sunak] cannot stand up to his own party”. 

Similar claims were made at PMQs last week, with Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden saying that “it is under this party that we have record levels of housing being built”, and Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner saying that “house building is set to collapse to its lowest level since the war”. 

Some of these claims are more accurate than others, but none give a complete picture of how current levels of house building compare to previous years.

Using statistics without appropriate context and caveats can damage public trust in both the statistics and politicians. MPs and ministers should use data transparently and with all relevant context and caveats when a claim is first made, and quickly rectify oversights when they occur.

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Competing claims

We asked the government about the claims made by Mr Sunak and Mr Dowden and did not receive any response, so we don’t know exactly what the claims were based on.

But it’s possible Mr Sunak at least was referring to a specific measure of house building called ‘net additional dwellings’. When he made a similar claim about house building levels earlier this year, it was this data set he was referring to.

Net additional dwellings data is one of two main sets of statistics that give us an idea of how many new homes are being built. It is a measure of how many homes have been created, or ‘housing supply’. It includes new build properties, as well as conversions (such as  a house converted into flats) and changes of use (such as an office building becoming a home). 

It’s correct that the number of net additional dwellings in England hit the highest point on record in 2019/20, and has been nearly as high in the subsequent two years. However, that data only goes back to the early 1990s.

At least one other metric—the number of new homes completed in a calendar year—also supports the claim that house building is at or near record levels in recent years, with the 178,010 houses completed in 2022 the highest figure since 1989. But other historical data shows many more houses were constructed in previous decades, so it’s not correct to say that house building is currently at an all-time record level. We’ve written more about this historical data before. 

We also asked the Labour Party to explain the claims made by Mr Starmer and Ms Rayner and again did not get any response, so we also don’t know what their claims were based on.

However, none of the different official statistics suggest that house building is currently at its lowest rate since the Second World War, as Mr Starmer appeared to claim.

It is possible that Mr Starmer was referring to a report published in March by the planning and development consultancy Lichfields for the industry body the Home Builders Federation. That report claimed that proposed changes to England’s planning framework and environmental policies have “the potential to see net housing supply drop as low as 111,000 per year, around 10% lower than the previous… lowest ever annual net supply during peacetime”. 

If this is what Mr Starmer was referring to, the report is a projection of what may occur “in the coming years”—the Home Builders Federation told us the report was not more specific about the timescale—rather than what current house building figures show. That is a distinction Ms Rayner made when she separately said house building was “set to” collapse to its lowest level since the Second World War, though she did not specify a time frame or make any reference to the current much higher levels of house building. 

Throughout this fact check we’ve focused on house building statistics for England, as housing is a devolved matter and the available data for England is more comprehensive. Some UK-wide figures are published by the Office for National Statistics and House of Commons Library

What does the different data on house building show?

As outlined above, there are two main official measures of house building—’net additional dwellings’, and ‘indicators of new supply’, which show the number of new homes being started and completed. But there are lots of different ways housing data can be summarised—for instance, it may be UK-wide or nation-specific, seasonally adjusted or unadjusted, and quarterly or annual—which means claims about the numbers can vary depending on exactly what set is used.  

The latest annual data on net additional dwellings shows that 232,820 were added to England’s housing supply in 2021/22, including 210,070 new build homes. 


As the graph above shows, the record for net additional dwellings within the 30 years this data set covers was set in 2019/20, when 242,700 homes were added to the stock. Numbers fell to 211,870 in 2020/21, and rose again last year. These numbers do then appear to broadly support Mr Sunak and Mr Dowden’s claims, but only within the limited time period they cover. They don’t support Mr Starmer’s claim that house building is at its lowest rate since the Second World War.

Looking at a different metric, indicators of new supply, enables us to examine longer-term trends. This data has been published quarterly since 1978, while calendar-year data stretches back to 1946.During the Second World War, the number of new houses built each year in England was at a historic low. It rose substantially in the following decades, reaching a high of 352,540 new homes completed in 1968. 


Since then, figures have broadly declined. The lowest figures recorded since the war occurred between 2010 and 2014, following a drop in building after the financial crisis. 106,720 homes were completed in 2010. Figures rose slightly in 2011 and 2012, before dipping to 109,440 in 2013. In 2022, 177,810 new homes were built in England. 

This data set then doesn’t appear to support either the claim that house building is at or close to record levels, or the claim that it is at its lowest rate since the Second World War.

Image courtesy of Ralphs_Fotos

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After we published this fact check, we contacted Sir Keir Starmer to request a correction regarding the claim he made. 

Sir Keir did not respond. 

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