Life expectancy gap growing between most and least deprived - PPI

The gap in life expectancy between the most and least deprived individuals grew by 8 per cent between 2012 and 2017, according to a briefing note from the Pensions Policy Institute (PPI).

The briefing note, titled Longevity Inequality, said this illustrated “a growing heterogeneity" in the population and noted that a single state pension age would consequently have more diverse outcomes than before as it examined how policy options might be able to spread the effects of changes to the state pension age fairly across the population.

The briefing note also illustrated the importance of the state pension, pointing out that around half of pensioners derived nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of their income from the state pension and other benefits.

Additionally, more people are benefiting from the state pension, as the PPI’s research found that the average probability of reaching state pension age had improved by 2 per cent over the last 70 years.

PPI commented that the current system of having a single nationwide state pension age was “easy to implement and govern and is considered practicable” and added that there was no perfect alternative.

It noted that suggestions such as implementing different state pension ages depending on area, occupation or earnings, or a flexible age which offered varying income levels could raise problems of both management and fairness.

Among the PPI’s suggestions were managing the imbalance of the state pension age through policy options that tackled health inequalities or assisting older people in finding paid employment.

The note stated: “With the government’s six-year review of state pension age to be conducted by July 2023, issues of longevity and health inequalities are important to ensure that the effects of any changes are distributed fairly among the population.

“The policy options available, which could potentially mitigate some of these issues, each have their own downsides meaning that careful consideration is required before being implemented within the UK. As longevity and health inequalities begin before retirement, policy changes to state pension age only represents part of the solution.

“Policy changes targeted at individuals before retirement, such as a lower pension credit age, or policies which can better aid lower earners either through the tax system or health services can be used in tandem with changes with state pension age to help reduce inequalities in life and healthy life expectancy.”

The PPI also found that the gap between total life expectancy and healthy life expectancy is increasing as the latter fails to keep pace with the former.

Healthy life expectancy for women was projected to decrease and for women in the most deprived areas it was forecast to drop from 52.4 years in 2012 to 50.9 years in 2030, meaning that they could spend more time in poor health before reaching the state pension age.

The overall gap for healthy life expectancy between the most deprived and least deprived is growing by 22 days a year for men but shortening for women by six days a year on average.

The note added: “If these trends of a widening gap between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy continue, future generations of more disadvantaged people could find it increasingly difficult to work for longer before state pension age due to poor health.

“This could lead to difficulties providing for financial adequacy in retirement, especially for the most deprived with the lowest healthy life expectancies.”

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