Levels of geography


The hierarchy of geographic levels

The diagram below shows, in hierarchical fashion, the main geographic levels in the UK, together with how many there are of each.  The boxes are highlighted in yellow are those that are mainly used in this website.

Note that:

  • The distinction between upper and lower tier local authorities only applies to England.  In those parts of England which have two tiers of local authority, the upper tier is a ‘county’ and the lower tier is a ‘district’.  In those parts which only have one tier, it is known as a ‘unitary’.  Some services (e.g. education and social services) are the responsibility of upper tier authorities whilst others (e.g. housing) are the responsibility of lower tier authorities.
  • The geographic levels of ‘super output area’ and ‘output area’ were invented around the time of the 2001 Census to provide a consistent geography which a) does not change over time and b) where the population of each area is similar.  From an analytic perspective, the ‘super output area’ geography basically replaces the ‘ward’ geography, as the latter meets neither of the criteria above.
  • The ‘lower super output area’ (or LSOA) level 1 is the geography at which the various country Indices of Deprivation are estimated and published.
  • The ‘middle super output area’ (or MSOA) level 2 geography has historically not been used very much but may be in the future as it is the level at which education statistics are increasingly being produced.

The general approach to the presentation of geographic data on this website is as follows:

  • In graphs, to present variations at the level immediately below that of the country.  For the UK, this means regions.  For Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it means local authorities.
  • In maps, to present the data at the lowest geography that it is available for.  Depending on the subject, this can mean anything from lower tier local authorities to output areas.

Data availability

In broad terms:

    • At the regional level: most survey data is available at a regional level.  As discussed in the page of survey analysis, however, the sample sizes in some surveys mean that analysis using this data is sometimes somewhat unreliable.
    • At the local authority level: most survey data is not available at a local authority level.  This is partly because of small sample sizes and partly because, for supposed data disclosure reasons, the local authorities are generally suppressed in the publicly available versions of the survey datasets.  The major exceptions are the Annual Population Survey and Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.  By contrast, most administrative data is available at a local authority level and, because it is generally a complete count, does not usually suffer from small sample size problems.
    • At the super output area or ward level: apart from the 2001 Census, the only relevant data that is regularly available at a super output area level is out-of-work benefits plus some educational data.  Note that, although the various Indices of Deprivation are at a lower super output area level, a) they are largely driven by older versions of the benefits data and b) much of their other data is ‘modelled’ rather than real.3
Section Dataset Level of data Relevance to this website
LSOA? Ward? MSOA? Relevant? Regularly updated? Complete?
Access to Services Combined Road Distance to Services Indicator yes no yes No    
Dental Surgeries yes yes yes No    
Early Years and Nurseries yes yes yes No    
Educational Establishments yes yes yes No    
General Practices / Surgeries yes yes yes No    
Legal Help and Help at Court Claimants yes no yes No    
Opticians yes yes yes No    
Pharmacies yes yes yes No    
Primary Schools yes yes yes No    
Publicly Funded Legal Services yes yes yes No    
Vehicle Licence Data no yes no No    
Crime and Safety Fire and Rescue Service: All Incidents Attended no no yes No    
Fire and Rescue Service: Fires Attended yes no yes No    
Economic DeprivationCounty Court Judgments - Personal Consumer Debt no no yes Partial No (latest data is for 2004) 8% of MSOAs have no data
Education, Skills and Training Combined National Curriculum Assessments (Key Stages 2, 3 & 4) yes no yes Yes No (latest data is for 2003) Yes
Further Education Success, Retention and Achievement Rates yes no yes Partial No (latest data is 2003/04) Yes
GCSE and Equivalent Results for Young People yes no yes Yes Yes 57% of LSOAs and 16% of MSOAs have no data
Home Student Enrolments on Higher Education Courses at Publicly Funded Higher Education Institutions no yes no No    
National Curriculum Assessments at Key Stage 1 yes no yes Partial Yes 56% of LSOAs and 10% of MSOAs have no data
National Curriculum Assessments at Key Stage 2 yes no yes Yes Yes 52% of LSOAs and 5% of MSOAs have no data
National Curriculum Assessments at Key Stage 3 yes no yes Partial Yes 42% of LSOAs and 2% of MSOAs have no data
Pupil Absence in Schools in England no no yes No    
Secondary School Absence yes no yes No    
Health and Care Emergency Admissions to Hospital Indicator yes no yes No    
Years of Potential Life Lost Indicator yes no yes Yes No (latest data is for 2003) Yes
Conceptions - Under 18's no yes no Partial No (latest data is for 2003) 8% of MSOAs have no data
Housing Changes of Ownership by Dwelling Price no no yes Partial Yes Yes
Dwelling Stock by Council Tax Band yes no yes No    
Vacant Dwellings no yes no No    
Physical Environment Air Emissions no no yes No    
Air Quality Management Areas no no yes No    
Ambient Air Quality no no yes No    
Commercial and Industrial Floorspace and Rateable Value Statistics no no yes No    
Land Use Statistics (Generalised Land Use) yes no yes No    
Land Use Statistics (Previously-Developed Land) yes no yes No    
Work Deprivation New Deal Programme no no yes Partial Yes Yes
VAT Based Enterprises no no yes No    
VAT Based Local Units no no yes No    

Note that these datasets only cover England, whereas the benefits data is available for the whole of Great Britain and the Census data is available for the whole of the United Kingdom.

  • At the output area level: the only data that is available at an output area level is that from the 2001 Census.

1. In Scotland, this level of geography is known as ‘data zone’.
2. In Scotland, this level of geography is known as ‘intermediate level’.
3. Of the various datasets available from the DLCG Neighbourhood Statistics website (as at January 2008), 38 datasets are at a super output area (or ward level), excluding those relating to benefits data or from the 2001 Census.  These 38 datasets are listed below.  Of the 38, 11 are potentially relevant to this website.  Of the 11, the 2 that are both clearly relevant and regularly updated are in the area of education (Key Stage 2 and GCSE results) but these currently only provide estimates for around half of the lower level super output areas.