Improvements are less than half those experienced in the 2000s
Life expectancy grew by less than a year for both men and women in the last ten years, with health inequalities widening at the same time, the Institute of Health Equality has concluded.
In an update to the landmark Marmot Review, published in 2010, University College London’s institute found increasing challenges to government pension policy, including the state pension.
The period life expectancy for men at birth was 79.6 years for men in 2018 and 83.2 for women, the review found. These figures are just 0.9 years and 0.6 years higher than in 2008. For comparison, there were increases of 2.2 and 1.5 years respectively between 2000 and 2008.
But outside of the headline figures, the review found greater discrepancies. Healthy life expectancy had fallen on average for women, from 64 years to 63.8 years, while overall life expectancy had also fallen for women in the most deprived areas of the country.
The report added that this would have implications for state pension policy, with the planned rises in the eligible age causing an increase in the numbers of people with disabilities needing to rely on working-age benefits for support. Only those in the least deprived 20 to 30% of areas will be eligible for the state pension before they can expect to develop a disability.
Hargreaves Lansdown senior analyst Nathan Long said: “Life expectancy stalling overall and reversing for some, in particular women from more deprived areas, brings huge challenges. A widening gap between rich and poor, and across regions of the UK, adds additional pressure to the pension system.
“Raising the state pension age has so far been a simple but rather blunt way of containing the cost of helping people meet their outgoings after they’ve finished work, but it does cause issues and could prompt more calls for early access to state pension for some.”
An independent review of the state pension, conducted by John Cridland and published in 2017, rejected calls for a flexible stage pension age even where potential recipients suffer from ill-health or a lower life expectancy.
He also recommended that the state pension age should be increased to 68 by 2039, with the government later confirming this was its intention.
Despite the institute’s findings, Club Vita engagement lead Mark Sharkey said there was a “flaw” in defined benefit (DB) schemes relying on the headline trends.
“Those responsible for scheme funding need to be alert to the risk of using average increases in life expectancy for funding projections,” he said. “This is what many pension schemes are doing by virtue of adopting an unadjusted version of the Continuous Mortality Investigation (CMI) model.
“For most schemes, the lion’s share of scheme liabilities (and therefore risk) lies with the most affluent individuals. It is these individuals who have been most resilient to the recent stalling in national life expectancy. Failing to reflect the socioeconomic landscape of the scheme membership risks underestimating the cost of providing benefits.”
However, latest data from the CMI, published in January, found the cumulative mortality improvement rate for 2019 had hit 3.6% per annum, with mortality at its lowest in ten years.