PEOPLE at risk of poverty are up to twice as likely to suffer from a chronic illness compared to the general population, according to a new report.
Those struggling to survive on the poverty line, or existing on the edges of society, are also at far higher risk of premature death.
Policy makers across all Government departments must open their eyes to the higher level of ill-health and social conditions resulting in this "appaling" loss of life, according to the Institute of Public Health (IPH).
Up to 5,400 fewer people would die prematurely each year if inequalities and social deprivation were tackled among low-income groups, according to evidence compiled in the report from the IPH and Combat Poverty Agency.
Jane Wilde, chief executive of the IPH, warned the social and economic conditions, such as poor housing, nutrition and education, were "fundamentally responsible" for the massive gaps in the health experience between the rich and the poor.
Ms Wilde pointed out decisions taken by policy-makers in every single department could directly influence the health of the population.
"We really have to think about this in terms of a movement right across society," she said, rather than overburdening the health system. She highlighted the importance of investment in early childhood, the state of people's living conditions, adequate public transport systems and access to health care.
Around 7pc of people, or as many as 300,000, are living on low incomes and deprived of many of the basic necessities. One in every five children was found to be at risk of poverty.
According to the report 'Tackling Health Inequalities -- An All-Ireland Approach to Social Determinants', almost half of those consistently poor and 38pc of those at risk of poverty in the Republic, suffered from a chronic illness, compared to 23pc of the general population.
This was similarly replicated in the North, where 47pc of unskilled workers suffered from long-standing illness, compared to 30pc of professionals and managers. The death rate for all causes among the lower skilled workers was 100pc to 200pc higher than the rate amongst the highest skilled workers.
Inequality-related health losses amount to over 700,000 deaths and 33m cases of ill health in the European Union, and account for a fifth of the total costs of health care.
Bevin Cody, from Combat Poverty, which advises the Government, said tackling social conditions would also have a cost-savings benefit for the health services. She said there were policies in place which attempted to address the issues and there was an "openness" towards making changes.
The study was released to coincide with a report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the social factors influencing health, which is calling for action now to narrow the inequality gap.