Grant Shapps, the hyper-energetic housing minister, has been under fire from Labour who accuse him of playing fast and loose with statistics. Andrew Dilnot of the UK Statistics Authority has now ruled on a complaint by Jack Dromey, shadow housing minister, about Mr Shapps. You can see the ruling here.
In the meantime, here is FT Westminster’s assessment of Dilnot’s findings.
1] Stock of Dwellings 1997 to 2010
(JP: Labour complained that Shapps had said there was a net loss of 45,000 or 200,000 homes in 13 years of the last Labour government. In fact, it says, there were 2m new homes over the period.)
“Mr. Dromey is correct to state that the published official statistics, produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) indicate that the dwelling stock (all tenures) increased by some 2 million between 1997 and 2010.
However, in his answer to the Parliamentary Question, the Minister refers to ‘affordable homes’. These are homes that are provided at below market prices, whether for renting or home ownership.
There is a statistical series for the annual additions to this stock (which is quoted in Mr Dromey’s letter) but these figures do not take account of losses, which would be much more difficult to record.
Official estimates of net change are available for social rented dwellings, but not for the wider stock of ‘affordable’ housing beyond this category. They show an overall reduction of 421,000 in the stock of homes rented from local authorities and housing associations over the period 1997 to 2010.”
Verdict: Score draw. When Shapps was referring to “affordable homes” he may have been right. When he spoke about a net loss of “homes” in general he seems to have been wrong.
2] Gross additional affordable homes
(JP: Shapps said the government would build more affordable homes than were built between 1997 and 2010, using the figure of 270,000. That figure is based on 170,000 through affordable rent and 100,000 through right-to-buy by 2015.)
“Official statistics indicate that some 557,000 gross additional affordable homes were provided (not necessarily newly built) through various affordable housing initiatives between April 1997 and March 2010. This suggests that if the figures quoted in the Minister’s oral answer are correct, fewer affordable homes will be provided under current plans than in the longer, 13-year, period from 1997 to 2010. However, there is clearly some uncertainty associated with these estimates.”
Verdict: Victory for Dromey. Shapps under-stated the number of new affordable homes produced under Labour.
3] Rough Sleepers
(JP: Statistics show a rise of 23 per cent in rough sleeping in England between 2010 and 2011. Dromey complained that Shapps tried to blame this on non-UK nationals who he described as “Dick Whittingtons”).
“Mr Dromey’s criticism of the Minister’s statement appears to be not that it was inaccurate but that it was not the main point in the DCLG Statistical Release Rough Sleeping Statistics England – Autumn 2011 published in February 2012. The figures to which Mr Dromey referred, from statistics collated by a charity, were included in the Statistical Release.
In addition, the Minister’s statement included prominently a sentence ‘It comes as the latest statistics for England published today show the number of people sleeping rough increased by 23 per cent since last year.’
The Code of Practice for Official Statistics requires that professionally produced statistical releases must be in the public domain. The Statistics Authority recognises that Ministers often want to present such published statistical information in ways that best serve their political objectives.”
Verdict: Victory for Shapps. Dilnot accepts that ministers can use information in ways that “serve their political objectives”.
4. Housing starts in England
(JP: Shapps told the commons that housebuilding starts were going up in 2011, rising 25 per cent compared to 2009. Labour complained that the comparison should have been with the previous year, not the depths of the credit crunch).
“At the time the Minister made the statement to which Mr. Dromey referred (March 2012), the latest estimates for housing starts for the calendar years were 78,000 in 2009; 103,000 in 2010 and 98,000 in 2011.
Hansard reported the Minister as saying that “…in the past year alone house building starts in England went up by 25% compared with those in 2009″. The reference period (2009 instead of 2010) has clearly been carefully chosen, but this is not unusual in the context of a political debate.
Since then the estimates for all three years have been updated with additional information and the difference between 2011 and 2009 is currently 29 per cent. The latest estimates for 2010 and 2011 are now very close to each other in numerical terms (110,300 and 110,200).”
Verdict: Victory for Shapps. Once again he has been selective with stats but this is “not unusual” in politics.
5. Use of time frames about the date of the General Election
(JP: Labour complained that Shapps often used April-June when calculating building under the coalition, but this included a few weeks of the last Labour government).
In January 2012, Sir Michael Scholar wrote to Rt. Hon. Nick Raynsford MP and commented on this particular point. A copy of that letter is enclosed.
The letter says:
“We do not see much mileage in trying to pin down the number of Starts and Completions too precisely to either side of the change of administration. There is bound to be some lag in the system, with Housing Starts immediately following the Election most likely reflecting decisions and policies that were in train prior to that. The quarter in which the Election took place showed a higher total than the quarters either side of it, but it would be contentious to attribute that exclusively to the policies of either administration.”
Verdict: Victory for Shapps. Dilnot appears to think Labour is being a bit pedantic on this point.
6. Cost to build own home
(JP Shapps claimed that a self-built home typically cost about £150,000)
As far as we can establish, there are no official statistics on the costs of self-building. The Statistics Authority does not have any information on the reliability of indicative figures published by the National Self Build Association but, clearly, the cost will depend on many factors, as recognised in the Minister’s parliamentary answer on 17 May 2012.
Verdict: Victory for Dromey. The figure seems to be an estimate at best.