Between 1989 and 1998 death rates for all causes of death were over three times higher among poor people than among the wealthiest.
“In no other area is the impact of inequality on society as devastating as it is on our health,” the first report from the newly formed Public Health Alliance of Ireland (PHAI) states.
Death rates for all types of cancers among the poor is twice as high, for strokes nearly three times as high, lung cancer four times higher and death rates are six times higher from accidents among the poor.
Chronic physical illness is two-and-a-half times higher for poor people than for the wealthy.
Poor people were also more likely to suffer from mental illness and the male suicide rate is far higher.
The rate of hospitalisation for mental illness is more than six times higher.
The report also found that one in four poor people said money difficulties was mainly to blame for preventing them from improving their health.
Poor people just can’t afford the cost involved in staying healthy, said one of the authors, Brigid Quirke.
The community health worker, who works with Traveller support group Pavee Point, said a woman with two children and a weekly income of about €260 would not be eligible for free medical care.
It might cost the same woman 25% of her weekly income for a €40 GP visit and €20 antibiotics.
“Poor people simply don’t have the opportunity to make healthier choices and that’s why many adopt a ‘live for today’ attitude,” she insisted.
Rosaleen McDonagh, from Pavee Point, said Traveler women die 12 years earlier than their settled counterparts and the child loss rate is three times higher. Only 3% of travelers live beyond 65 years, compared with 11% of the settled population.
“Our population profile is similar to that of a developing country,” she said.
Ms Quirke said the PHAI, an independent alliance working together for a healthier society, compiled the report so everyone realised that health inequality had not happened by accident and that it must be tackled before it gets worse.