Life expectancy has stalled since 2010, due to a rise in dementia deaths and squeezed health services, according to a new report by Sir Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Health Equity at University College London.
Improvements in life expectancy at birth, which had been around a one-year increase every five years for women and every three and a half years for men, have slowed a one-year increase every 10 years for women and every six years for men.
The report found that there has been an increase in age-related degenerative mental health conditions, which have put further pressures on health, social care and pension provisions. Dementia has been the most common cause of death in women aged 80 and over and men aged 85 and older.
Marmot highlighted that ‘miserly’ levels of spending on health and social care at a time when the population is aging, affects the amount and quality of care older people receive. This in turn can affect people’s life expectancy.
The report also showed how poverty exacerbates these inequalities between local areas. Life expectancy for men varied from 74 in Blackpool to 83 in Kensington and Chelsea. Among women it varied from 79 in Manchester to 86 in Kensington and Chelsea.
Marmot stressed that good early years development has a lasting impact on prospects and health in later life. In 2015/16, some 70 per cent of all children reached a good level of development, but only 50 per cent of children on free school meals reached this level. Therefore, inequalities in life expectancies start early and continue to be entrenched through wealth inequalities and cuts to public services.
Jon Greer, head of retirement policy at Old Mutual Wealth, says: ‘The data from University College London, showing that the rate of increase in life expectancy has slowed, will inevitably lead to questions around the pace of state pension age increases.
‘But it would be dangerous to treat this report as an excuse to avoid tackling the long-term sustainability of the state pension. The state pension age remained largely unchanged for decades while life expectancy has increased rapidly. The proposed increases are really an example of the state pension age playing catch up with life expectancy.’
Further, demographic changes mean that a growing part of the population will rely on a smaller cohort of working-age peers to sustain their state pension benefits, which would increase the cost for taxpayers.
Greer concludes: ‘The government has also backed itself into a corner when they dodged a big decision by pledging to retain the triple-lock as part of the deal with the DUP. The Commons Work and Pensions Committee have warned previously that maintaining the pensions triple lock may mean having to push the state pension age above the average life expectancy for men in poorer parts of the country.’
Steven Cameron, pensions director at Aegon, says: ‘Even if improvements in life expectancy continue at a slower pace, the reality is that those people approaching retirement age should be expecting to spend twenty or even thirty years in retirement which requires serious financial planning, particularly for those people who won’t have a generous defined benefit pension to fall back on.’
This article was written for our sister magazine Money Observer.