Sadiq Khan criticised by statistics watchdog over house-building claims

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, pictured trying his hand at bricklaying at a new affordable housing development in the Royal Docks in January 2023 (PA)
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, pictured trying his hand at bricklaying at a new affordable housing development in the Royal Docks in January 2023 (PA)

Sadiq Khan has been criticised by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) over claims he made about his affordable house-building record.

The London mayor is said to have used language which “could be misinterpreted by the average person” when describing the number of affordable homes built using City Hall funding, which in turn was handed down by the Government.

During his bid for a third term in the mayoral election this year, Mr Khan wrote in an article for the LabourList website in March that “a record-breaking 25,000 genuinely affordable homes [were] delivered in the last year alone”. The same claim was made on the mayor’s official re-election website, promoted by the London Labour party.

In a letter of complaint to the UKSA, Lord Shaun Bailey - a Tory member of the London Assembly who stood against Mr Khan in 2021’s mayoral race - said he was concerned that such claims could be “materially misleading to the general public”.

He argued this for two reasons. Firstly, he objected to the use of the word “delivered” when the mayor was in fact referring to 25,658 homes on which construction had started, not finished.

Lord Bailey also took issue with the mayor claiming that this number had been achieved “in the last year alone”, as Mr Khan was referring to homes started in the 2022/23 financial year, covering the period between April 2022 and March 2023.

This is because the mayor was talking about the last full year for which data was available at the time of writing in March 2024.

The data for the twelve months which followed - the last quarter of which was published in May 2024 - showed that there had in fact been a record low number of affordable homes started using City Hall funding between April 2023 and March 2024. Just 2,358 homes were started in that period.

Responding to Lord Bailey’s complaint, UKSA chair Sir Robert Chote said in a letter on Friday he agreed that “the mayor’s use of the word ‘delivered’ could be misinterpreted by the average person to mean the housing had been completed rather than started”.

On the point about the timeframe of 2022/23 being referred to, Sir Robert wrote: “While the mayor would not have had access to the statistics for the equivalent period in 2023/24 at the time of writing the article, the number of affordable housing starts and completions for 2023/24 was 2,358 and 10,949 respectively.

“The reference to ‘within the last year’ may have been intended to reflect the latest year of statistics that were available, but this would not be clear from the statement alone.”

Commenting on Sir Robert’s letter, Lord Bailey has now said: “Given the real need to build more genuinely affordable homes and give Londoners the best possible chance of getting on the housing ladder, we must be honest about the challenges the city faces with housebuilding.

“We believed the mayor’s presentation of the figures in this way, including throughout his recent election campaign, was unhelpful at best, and deliberately misleading to the public at worst.”

Conservative London Assembly member Lord Bailey of Paddington (PA Archive)
Conservative London Assembly member Lord Bailey of Paddington (PA Archive)

He added that “with the regulator in agreement that these figures are disingenuous”, City Hall Conservatives “would urge the mayor to apologise”.

The mayor’s affordable housing targets are set by the Government and use housing starts rather than completions as the benchmark. For example, the previous affordable housing programme had a target of construction starting on 116,000 homes between 2016 and 2023, which Mr Khan’s team exceeded.

City Hall sources argued that it was therefore reasonable for the mayor to use the term “delivered” within the context of what the Government was asking of him.

A spokeswoman for Mr Khan said: “Under Sadiq, overall housing completions in London have consistently outpaced the rest of the country, with council house-building in the capital hitting levels not seen since the 1970s.

“The mayor has also started a record number of affordable homes, including the 25,000 genuinely affordable homes started in 2022/23 – figures confirmed by the UKSA.”

The record low number of affordable homes started in 2023/24 has been blamed by Mr Khan’s team on Government delays in providing funding for the latest affordable homes programme, which runs until 2026.