ONS life expectancy figures confirm need for urgent rethink of State Pension Age policy.
- 20-year difference in UK healthy life expectancy highlights injustice of continuing to force everyone to wait longer for their State Pension to start.
- Those in poorest health, carers, or long National Insurance records, may need State Pension before age 66.
- Delaying State Pension receipt for older people in poor health, unable to work and with no private pension is inequitable.
- A flexible band of pension ages allowing some early access would better suit our population.
ONS data show healthy life expectancy nearly 20 years lower for the most deprived areas of England: State Pension age reached 66 last October, yet latest ONS figures show the deleterious impact of the sharp rise in pension age in recent years. Women in poorest areas only have expected healthy life to age 51.4 and men to 52.3, while in the richest areas, men and women stay healthy into their early 70s! Forcing everyone to wait longer for their State Pension to start clearly has harsh impacts on the least well-off.
ONS estimated healthy life expectancy at birth 2017-2019
|Least well-off areas||Better-off areas||Difference|
|Women||Age 51.4||Age 71.2||19.8 years|
|Men||Age 52.3||Age 70.7||18.4 years|
Huge variations in life expectancy across the UK are ignored in State Pension Age policy: The rationale for rising state pension age is based on increases in average life expectancy across the UK in past years. However, average life expectancy masks an enormous difference between regions, occupations and social groups. The most recent ONS figures show an almost 20-year differential in healthy life expectancy in the UK, with least deprived areas having very different health outcomes. As we strive to level up the UK, the delay in starting state pension adds to the problems faced by the less-advantaged groups who may never receive any State Pension because of their shorter life expectancy, or may be forced to work despite failing health, as they are forced to wait longer and longer for their State Pension start date.
State Pension system makes no allowance for such differentials: Certain regions and occupations have much poorer health and in general the most disadvantaged groups in the population tend to live far shorter lives than others. Currently, the National Insurance pension system does not recognise this. Many have had hard manual working lives which has taken its toll on their health. Therefore, using average life expectancy particularly disadvantages such workers. Even if they have worked for 50 years or more, they cannot get State Pension early.
Private pensions allow early access but many disadvantaged groups rely only on State Pensions: The ever-rising State Pension Age is increasingly disadvantaging those people in poor health– especially women – who have little or no private pension to supplement their National Insurance state pension.
Covid-19 has worsened employment prospects and health of many over-60s: The pandemic has hit over-60s employment hard, and also damaged their health or forced them into caring for loved ones. Many are unlikely to be able to work again. Those without a private pension – especially women – need their pension early but cannot receive anything, even if they have seriously shortened life expectancy. Allowing early access, even at a reduced rate, could offer a lifeline, rather than the unrealistic reliance on out-of-work benefits.
Those who are healthy and wealthy enough can get more State Pension by delaying their state date: The current system favours the healthiest and wealthiest members of society – most of whom are likely to have good private pensions to fall back on if they need to and also stay healthy into their early 70s. Those who can afford to wait beyond age 66 or who are physically fit and want to keep working, are able to delay their state date and receive a higher pension. But no allowance is possible for those in the poorest health, with no other income and unable to work, to draw even a reduced amount sooner. I would prefer to see a band of ages whereby those who need it can access their State Pension sooner, subject to minimum contribution requirements and other assessments.
This is about social justice, as well as social support – flexible age range would be more equitable: Levelling up should also mean ensuring the State Pension system works more fairly for the least advantaged. There has long been a strong case for considering a more flexible age range for starting State Pension payments and the pandemic has made this case even stronger. I hope the Government will give this urgent consideration.