`Social map' shows growing health and wealth divide

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The Independent Online
A new "social atlas" of Britain, which maps the health, wealth, housing, demographic make-up, income and educational attainment of Britons down to constituency ward level, shows a country split between rich and poor.

But while the gaps in income and health have been widening since 1981, on other measures - unemployment and housing, for example - the gap has tended to close.

Ninety per cent of areas are more socially mixed than they used to be, not more polarised - even though society as a whole is polarising.

The atlas, generated from a computer programme that takes in 2 million statistics and which distorts the map of Britain to represent its population, not geography, takes the measures down to each of the 10,000 electoral wards in the country, providing a level of local detail previously unattainable, according to Daniel Dorling, a Joseph Rowntree fellow at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, who compiled it.

It shows, for example, that people are 17 times more likely to kill themselves than be killed in a homicide. That some of the highest levels of negative equity are not in leafy suburbia but on council estates such as Blackbird Leys in Oxford, where people took out 100 per cent mortgages to buy former council houses from previous owners who had bought their homes below the market price under the right-to-buy scheme.

The biggest single group of immigrants in the country are not people from the New Commonwealth, but the English themselves - who have invaded Scotland and Wales in large numbers. And the biggest group of immigrants in England are the Scots.

Some findings confirm preconceptions. Households with ill elderly people are the ones least likely, not most likely to have central heating, and of 300,000 women aged 85 or over who are ill, 200,000 of them live alone.

Other findings contrary to popular perception are that the greatest risk of death to children from road traffic accidents is in rural areas, not towns, or cities, or council estates.

The reason, according to Dr Dorling, is the lack of pavements and street lighting in rural areas, plus the greater density of ownership of cars which are more heavily used than in towns.

Another finding that Dr Dorling said surprised him was that in almost any area of the country it was possible to find a state school with good exam results. Results were not outstandingly better in more affluent areas, with "a very speckled pattern of good and bad schools" across the country, he said.

"You can work in any city and live in an area where your children can go to a good state school. There are good and bad schools everywhere."

None the less, he said, a simple pattern emerged from the mass of data. "The places where children fail their exams are the same places where they are more likely to be ill, to not get jobs, not go to university and to die younger."

By almost any measure, life is worst in the big inner cities of the North and Scotland, where the population tends to be more static and deprived, and best in the Home Counties. Somewhat surprisingly, rural poverty scarcely emerges as a problem from the figures.

And London, for all its concentration of the less well-off, fares better than the North on most measures of well-being, partly because its population is more mobile.

t A New Social Atlas of Britain; by Daniel Dorling; John Wiley; pounds 35.

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