MORE than 10,000 people living in poverty are suffering from heart or breathing issues in Dorset, new estimates suggest.
The findings come as public health organisations warn of disastrous consequences if people cannot heat their homes this winter.
New estimates from the Office for National Statistics suggest around 65,470 people were living in poverty in private households in Dorset as of March 2021 – 10,110 (15%) of whom had a cardiovascular or respiratory condition.
The ONS used various sources to come up with the figures, including data from the 2021 census and information on health conditions collected during the coronavirus pandemic.
Though the research did not find that rates of such conditions were higher for those in poverty than for the general population, the ONS said that as people in poverty are more exposed to the cold, they are more likely to be hospitalised or die as a result of them.
Reacting to the figures, Dorset councillor Jon Orrel, a former GP said: "This is not a surprise. The poor are poorer. Poverty brings illnesses and untimely deaths. For 100 years life expectancy has been rising.
"People have been living longer. Now after austerity, this has stalled, and impoverished women are suffering the most. Cold homes where food or fuel are unaffordable kills through pneumonia and heart attacks.
"People are freezing or starving. In a rich country, with more billionaires, this is obscene."
Last year, a separate study from the Institute of Health Equity at University College London cautioned that living in fuel poverty can have "dangerous consequences" on health, particularly among children.
Talking about this study, Sir Michael Marmot, director of the institute, said: “Warm homes, nutritious food and a stable job are vital building blocks for health.”
The report warns that alongside higher exposure to viruses, dust and mould as a result of the cold, living in poverty also comes with psychological pressures.
“If we are constantly worrying about making ends meet it puts a strain on our bodies, resulting in increased stress, with effects on the heart and blood vessels and a disordered immune system,” Sir Michael added.
Across the South West, around 142,135 people (14.1%) who were estimated to be living in poverty had heart or breathing problems.
A recent survey for the Royal Society of Public Health found that 41% of the population at large are worried that the cost-of-living crisis is impacting their physical health.
Responding to the findings, the organisation's chief executive, William Roberts, said that the UK "cannot afford to be on the back foot" when it comes to tackling health inequalities.
“The cost-of-living crisis is a public health crisis and prevention of ill health is key to supporting the financial growth and wellbeing of the nation,” he added.