Back at the despatch box on the first day of the new parliamentary session, David Cameron was keen to emphasise the gains his government has made on infrastructure in order to rejuvenate the sluggish economy.
Labour leader Ed Miliband pulled him up on it, however, reading the House of Commons a statement Mr Cameron made in March, when he said: “Our housing strategy is beginning to get Britain building again”.
Could the Prime Minister tell us how many housing starts there have been since he made this statement, he asked?
Mr Cameron replied: “Housing starts are up 30 per cent since 2009, which was the lowest rate of housing building since the 1920s. That is what his government left.”
Are they? FactCheck’s looked into it.
The Department for Communities and Local Government publishes stats on housebuilding – starts and completions. We began with them.
The figures suggest that between the 2008/09 and 2011/12 financial years, there was an increase, but only of 19 per cent, to 105,110, but not the 30 per cent Mr Cameron claimed.
When we queried this with the department, they came back with another report showing that starts have increased by nearly 30 per cent since 2009 – but only when figures are taken for the calendar year.
According to that report, there were 85,600 new homes started in the year to December 2009 and 110,720 in the 12 months to December 2011.
But what’s arguably more interesting is that the figures make clear that Mr Cameron’s been very careful in choosing 2009 – whether it’s from April or December – as his starting point.
It’s a curious timeframe, as one would expect a Prime Minister who wanted to defend his government’s record to start the clock at the May 2010 election.
Looking at the trends of starts for building houses, it becomes clear why he chose 2009: that was when construction was worst hit by the recession, and housebuilding was at its lowest point.
Until then, however, since the turn of the century, housebuilding had been on a fairly slow but steady rise.
It’s also worth pointing out that not only will choosing the lowest point magnify any rise since then, but that housing starts are still only about half-way towards their pre-crash levels.
If we were to look at housebuilding starts since his government came to power, the maximum increase in housebuilding starts has been 14 per cent. In between some quarters, it’s fallen.
From the December 2010, months after he took office, to December 2011, the percentage change was a grand total of 0. And the latest quarterly stats show that housebuilding stats are on a downward trend at the moment.
There are figures which back up Mr Cameron’s claim, but what’s more revealing is the point at which he chose to start.
He chose the lowest point since the 1920s to show how bad things were under the last government, and because any increase since that point will appear so much larger.
Likewise, he hasn’t used the figures to show, for example, that for a full year under his premiership, there was no percentage change at all in the number of houses being built.
If he did, it would have shown that housing’s been a bit of a non-starter.
By Fariha Karim