Know your neighbour: it's all on the Web

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The Independent Online

Getting to know your neighbours used to entail talking to them, or at least peering through their curtains when you knew they were out. Now you can discover everything you need to know about the people around you, from the qualifications they have to the state of their health, from the internet.

Getting to know your neighbours used to entail talking to them, or at least peering through their curtains when you knew they were out. Now you can discover everything you need to know about the people around you, from the qualifications they have to the state of their health, from the internet.

At a click of a button, people can find out from a government websit the ethnic make-up, marital history and other socio-economic details of the 125 households closest to theirs.

Far from opposing the release of such personal data, some civil liberty groups have welcomed it. They say the information could help to dispel right-wing myths about towns being "swamped" by asylum-seekers or ethnic minorities.

Data from the 2001 Census has been collated and broken down to street level for the first time by the Office for National Statistics. Previously, population statistics could only be broken down into electoral wards. Now they can be divided into Output Areas of between 40 and 125 households, giving even more detailed data.

Statisticians say the information could help house buyers to find out more on their area before they move in, and give local councils better knowledge of their communities.

Safeguards have been built in to ensure that individuals cannot be identified.

Chris Myant, of the Campaign for Racial Equality, said: "This is a great idea. The principle that people should get to know their neighbourhoods is something we fully support. People are told their communities are being 'swamped' and 'flooded' with asylum-seekers or ethnic minorities when they are not. Whenever people are asked about the ethnic makeup, they always make massive overestimates. This will give everyone a detailed, accurate picture of their area, and proper knowledge can only be a good thing."

The 2001 Census collated so much information that the Office of National Statistics is releasing it throughout this year.

The latest data, revealed yesterday, shows huge variations between areas in the proportion of elderly people, young children and even married couples.

The Grange ward of Gosport, Hampshire, has the largest percentage of children under four in England and Wales, with 12 per cent of the population of pre-school age. Gwynedd in Wales has the lowest rate of youngsters, with just 1 per cent of inhabitants aged under four. The Highcliffe ward of Christchurch, Dorset, is the "oldie" capital of the country, with an average age of 63, but Blackburn's Bastwell ward is a youngster's paradise, with 27 the average age.

Already grappling with the problems of being a fading seaside resort, the central St Leonards area of Hastings has the dubious distinction of having the highest rates of ex-husbands and ex-wives. One in three people is separated, divorced or widowed. The Hipswell area of Richmond,Yorkshire, is the centre of marital bliss, where more than 80 per cent of residents are married.

The neighbourhood information can be found at www.statistics.gov.uk

BRITAIN AT A GLANCE

Most lone-parent families: Knowsley, Merseyside (Princess) - 33%

Most Christian: Copeland, Lake District, (Hillcrest) - 91%

Most pensioners: Christchurch, Dorset (Highcliffe ward) - 69% aged over 60.

Most people born outside the EU: Forest Heath, Suffolk (Eriswell) - 55%

Most ill: East Lindsey, Lincolnshire (Sutton on Sea North) - 40% have long-term illness

Most hard-working men: Conwy, Wales (Uwchaled) - average 53 hours a week

Most hard-working women: Farringdon, London - average 41 hours a week

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