In an interview with the Sunday Times ahead of the Labour party conference, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves MP reportedly told the newspaper that house building is at its lowest level since the Second World War.
The Sunday Times interview said: “Fewer homes are being built than at any time since the Second World War, and the Tories had dealt a “hammer blow to the dreams” of young people and families that Labour was determined to reverse, Reeves said.”
However, house building is not at its lowest level since the Second World War according to the annual latest data. Current house building figures show more houses are being built than a decade ago, though one industry projection earlier this year suggested house building could hit a post-war low in the next few years if certain potential policy changes occur.
We’ve written to Ms Reeves and Labour and asked them for comment, as well as to the Sunday Times, but have not received a response.
This article focuses on the situation in England where the UK government has responsibility for housing policy. This is devolved elsewhere in the UK.
If an MP is quoted making a false or misleading claim in print media they should take responsibility for informing the publication of their error so it can take appropriate steps to correct this. 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.
Honesty in public debate matters
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How many houses are being built?
There are two main official measures of house building—’net additional dwellings’, which measures how many new homes have been created, and ‘indicators of new supply’, which shows the number of new homes being started and completed.
On the first of these measures, in 2021/22, 232,820 new homes were added to England’s housing supply. This is 10% more than the year before and around 85% more than the number of net additional dwellings created in 2012/13 (the lowest number on this measure since they began being collected in 2000.
The second measure, data for 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.
At the end of 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. Around 106,700 homes were completed in 2010, while in 2022 177,810 new homes were built in England.
The latest quarterly data for this metric shows that the number of new dwellings where building work began (between April and June) has increased 33% compared to the same period last year, while the number of completed dwellings has decreased by 12%, though is around the same level as in Q3 in 2022.
Earlier this year, Full Fact looked at a similar claim made by Labour leader Keir Starmer, that house building was “at its lowest rate since the war”.
We determined it was 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 and Ms Reeves were 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.
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