I'm pleased we had a record number of new homes built in the last year
During his first appearance at the despatch box for Prime Minister’s Questions last week, Rishi Sunak claimed there have been a record number of new homes built in the last year. Answering a question about protecting the green belt, he said: “We must protect our green belt and we are adopting a “brownfield first” strategy. I am pleased that we had a record number of new homes built in the last year, but it is important that we build those homes in the right places.”
This does not appear to be correct. Mr Sunak’s claim is not supported by the most recent figures published by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), and while there are various different statistics published about the number of new homes, we’ve not found any data which backs up Mr Sunak’s claim.
When we asked Number 10 what statistics Mr Sunak was referring to, an official pointed us to a range of house-building figures for England, but none of these substantiated his claim. Number 10 has not responded to further queries.
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What statistics show the number of new homes built?
There are two main sets of statistics that give us an idea of how many new homes are being built—‘indicators of new supply’ and ‘net additional dwellings’. We were pointed to both by Number 10.
The ‘indicators of new supply’ statistics are published quarterly for England, and show both the number of new homes being started and the number of new homes being completed. These figures are described by DLUHC as “a leading indicator of house building”.
Meanwhile the ‘net additional dwellings’ figures, published annually for England, show the number of homes added to the overall stock.
These figures—described by DLUHC as “the most comprehensive estimate of housing supply”—take into account not only new-build homes, but also homes that are converted to residential use from something else, such as an office or agricultural building. They also take into consideration the number of homes that cease to exist, for example because they are demolished or converted into non-residential buildings.
While these are the two main ways new homes are counted, there are lots of different ways housing statistics can be summarised. For instance, data may be UK-wide or nation-specific, seasonally adjusted or unadjusted, and quarterly or annual.
That variety can make it hard to say for certain what the data doesn’t show—but we have looked at the statistics in lots of different ways to try to verify Mr Sunak’s claim, and have been unable to do so.
Number of new homes completed
According to the most recent figures on new supply, in the year ending June 2022 there were 173,520 new homes completed in England. This is not a record—in the previous year ending June 2021 there were 181,900 new homes completed.
It should be noted that these figures are subject to revision, so the most recent quarterly figures may yet increase.
Quarterly data on new homes built goes back to 1978. If you use this to look at the number of new homes completed each year to the end of June, it shows the level of housebuilding was higher than in the year ending June 2022 in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the late 1980s, and in 2021.
John Perry, a policy advisor at the Chartered Institute of Housing, told Full Fact: “Even if you aggregate the quarterly figures, the claim doesn't stand up. Last year wasn't a bad year, but it wasn't a record year.”
Calendar-year data goes back even further, to 1946, and shows more new homes were built in England each year from 1952 to 1980 than over the last available year (2021), though it does warn “data for earlier years are less reliable and definitions may not be consistent throughout the series”.
The Office for National Statistics publishes figures on completions for the entire United Kingdom, though the most recent release only covers the financial year ending April 2020, when 210,690 homes were completed. This was the highest figure since the financial year 2007/08, but again much lower than the levels seen in the 1970s and 1980s. Calendar year data (which ends in 2019) also shows that there were very high rates of house building from the early 1950s through to the early 1980s.
Figures which go even further back, published by the House of Commons Library, show significantly higher totals of completion for much of the 1930s. It should be noted that the House of Commons Library does state that figures pre-1945 are derived from a different source to figures from 1946 onwards, so these figures are “not necessarily directly comparable”.
The only piece of data we came across that suggests a recent “record” level of housebuilding was the latest seasonally-adjusted quarterly data on the number of new homes which started being built in England.In the second quarter of 2022, some 51,730 new homes were started in England.
This is a record since seasonally-adjusted quarterly records began in 2000—a fact highlighted by one specialist property website.
However, as this data covers only three months rather than a year, and looks at the number of homes started rather than the number of homes completed, it still doesn’t substantiate Mr Sunak’s claim that there were “a record number of new homes built in the last year”. This quarterly figure also isn’t one we were pointed to by Number 10.
Number of net additional dwellings
We were also unable to find evidence to support Mr Sunak’s claims in the data on ‘net additional dwellings’—the number of homes added to the overall stock.
The UK Government only publishes data on net additional dwellings in England, rather than UK-wide. The figures on net additional dwellings in England begin in 2000, with the most recent data capturing the financial year ending 2021.
This wasn’t a record year either.
In 2020/21 there were 216,489 net additional homes. This is fewer than in the last four financial years, including 2019/20 when there were 242,702—the highest figure since this set of records began.
The next set of data on net additional dwellings, which will capture the 2021-22 financial year, will be published in November. Of course it’s possible that this could show the last year has in fact seen a record number of new homes built—but that data as yet remains unpublished.
What does Downing Street say?
When we asked Number 10 about Mr Sunak’s claim, it didn’t give us an official comment. Instead, we were pointed to several different house-building statistics, with figures over a range of different time periods.
These included the number of net additional homes since April 2010 (over 2 million), the number of net additional homes delivered between April 2019 and March 2020 (over 242,000), the number of ‘affordable homes’ delivered since 2010 (over 598,000) and the number of new homes started in England in the year to June 2022 (180,820—though when we checked this figure we found it was 180,830).
These specific statistics referred to by Number 10 are broadly accurate, but none of them show that a record number of new homes were built in the past year. (The number of new homes started in England in the year to June 2022 is not a record either—according to the non-seasonally adjusted figures, there were more homes started in the year ending June 1989, and according to the seasonally adjusted figures more homes started in the year ending June 2006).
We asked Number 10 why there appears to be no evidence to support Mr Sunak’s claim, but did not receive any further response.
Many more new homes were built in previous decades
The big picture is that, while housebuilding has been at relatively high levels in the past few years, over the long-term it has decreased.
Christian Hilber, professor of economic geography at the London School of Economics (LSE), told Full Fact: “If [Rishi Sunak] was referring to the last couple of years, then we are indeed close to a recent peak in construction.
“But if he really said there was a record number of new homes built ever in this country, then that is definitely not true and there is no statistic I'm aware of that would support this argument."He added: “From a historic perspective, we construct very little housing in this country.
“In the late 1960s, construction in terms of completed dwellings was way over 300,000 in England alone (over 350,000 in 1968) and since then, construction has declined and it has declined in a cyclical way.
“For example, there was more construction during the economic boom years of the late 1980s than during the bust years of the early 1990s when there was a big recession.
“Construction really fell off a cliff during and after the great financial crisis, but since then it has again recovered somewhat. So there is a cyclical element to construction, but there is a long-running trend and that is declining.”
Paul Cheshire, emeritus professor of economic geography at LSE, said: “The main thing to stress is that there is really a strong long term decline in house building, which one year's figures tell you nothing about because it's so cyclical.”
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