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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 August 2005, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Internet 'could widen wealth gap'
A homeowner
Segregation between rich and poor could worsen, the charity warns
Websites providing information on different neighbourhoods could widen the gap between rich and poor areas, a charity has warned.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) is concerned about websites providing househunters with data on neighbourhood income levels and ethnicity.

The JRF said that similar sites in the US had led to people on high incomes increasingly living in the same area.

The charity said this led to greater segregation and less social cohesion.

Neighbourhood search

Generally, information available to UK househunters about neighbourhood characteristics has been more limited than that available to their US counterparts.

People will start using them to sort themselves out into neighbourhoods where their neighbours are less diverse and more like themselves
Roger Burrows, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

In the US, househunters can search for the average income of neighbourhoods as well as other details such as how ethnically diverse an area is.

Such information is becoming more widely available over the internet to UK househunters, on a postcode rather than neighbourhood basis.

Already househunters can check out local crime rates and the performance of neighbourhood schools.

The JRF said that, although it was good for househunters to know more about areas, there was a danger that wealthy people would only choose to live in areas with other wealthy people.

Social scientists have long theorised that having a mix of rich and poor in a neighbourhood ultimately raises the living standards of the poorest people in the area.

"It is entirely possible that people will start using them to sort themselves out into neighbourhoods where their neighbours are less diverse and more like themselves," said Professor Roger Burrows, who led the JRF research team from the Universities of York and Durham.

"While no one would want to prevent public access to neighbourhood information, we should recognise the potential implications for disadvantaged neighbourhoods and the people who live in them," he added.

What you can learn about one UK town on househunting sites

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