Understanding Dorset


Dorset Council area has a population of 380,000 residents, 30% of whom are aged 65 and older (compared to 19% in England and Wales).

Dorset is an attractive place, and many people choose to retire here. It has a large population of older people, and relatively low birth rates. Currently there are over 7,000 people in Dorset living with dementia, and the number is increasing. Younger people often move away from the area. The population continues to grow slowly, driven by people moving into the county and longer life expectancy. The greatest part of population growth is among over 65s. Dorset’s working age population is expected to see a marginal decline over the next 25 years.

The Dorset rural idyll can conceal hidden deprivation. There are significant areas of deprivation, mostly in urban areas (mainly Weymouth and Portland) and also in the east of Dorset in Ferndown, Wimborne and Verwood and also some rural deprivation due to isolation and difficulty accessing housing, transport and essential services. Crime is generally low in Dorset, although anti-social behaviour and rural crime are an ongoing problem.

The population is predominantly white British, with 4.4% of our residents from ethnically diverse communities.

Natural, geological and historic environment

Dorset’s natural environment is a great asset.

95 miles of coast in Dorset and Devon are classified as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site – the only one in England. Over half of Dorset is covered by the Area of

Outstanding Natural Beauty designation; 7% of Dorset is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest; and Dorset has one of the largest areas of protected lowland heath in Europe.

These designations together mark Dorset as a special place but also present challenges in terms of available land for delivering housing and employment development.

Dorset also has a rich historic environment, with one in twenty of all the protected ancient monuments in England, a well preserved pre-historic landscape and around 10,000 listed buildings. 

Economy and infrastructure

Employment in Dorset is high but, like the UK, our economy has a productivity gap. Manufacturing, health, retail, education and hospitality are all big employers in Dorset. 20,000 businesses are based in Dorset: 86% are micro firms and fewer than 1% are large firms. Dorset’s economy is worth around £8.1 billion and provides 147,000 jobs. Dorset has an above average number of advanced engineering and manufacturing businesses, but there is also a continuing seasonal, low skill, low wage economy with tourism and agriculture significant industries. The area is rich in valuable minerals, including stone, sand/gravel and oil.

Earnings are below average and house prices are high with affordability issues for many young people and keyworkers.

Dorset has no motorway but over 2,500 miles of roads.

96% of premises in the Dorset Council area have access to superfast broadband. 13% of premises in the Dorset Council area have access to full-fibre broadband.

The pandemic in Dorset

Over 25,400 people in Dorset (approximately 7% of our population) had to shield. Sadly between 2020 and 2021 589 people in Dorset died within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test. The council and its partners provided a wide range of support, including:

  • handling 34,559 calls through our COVID-19 contact centre, coordinating food parcel and prescription deliveries, practical help with everyday tasks and befriending
  • administering £250 million of government grants to support local businesses
  • accommodating 49 rough sleepers and homeless households as part of the “everyone in” initiative
  • delivering 2,025 food packages and helped local COVID-19 support groups
  • working with partners to provide nearly 600,000 vaccines
  • vaccinating 96% of care home staff including agency staff

Partners and partnerships

The pandemic has changed how we live, work and think, and one thing it has proved is just how much more we can achieve by working together, across sectors and organisations, to protect those in greatest need. Hundreds of organisations responded to the crisis, including voluntary and community groups, town and parish councils, nurseries, schools and colleges, health and social care providers, registered housing providers and the police, not to mention residents. We need to keep that energy and spirit of collaboration alive as we move towards a ‘new normal’, and focus on delivering the priorities described below.

We can’t do this in isolation. Key partners include organisations in the health and social care economy, voluntary and community organisations, education providers, the local business community, Dorset’s Local Nature Partnership, digital infrastructure providers, the Jurassic Coast Trust, Dorset Wildlife Trust, the National Trust, Natural England, Homes England, Dorset Police, Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, Community Land Trusts, Public Health England, colleagues in the Integrated Care System, Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (and subsequent bodies), Dorset Healthcare Trust, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, the Local Enterprise Partnership, the ambulance service, transport providers, the Armed Forces and probation services

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