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UK life expectancy to 'level off' from 2021

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UK - Life expectancy at the UK state pension age (SPA) will begin to "level off" between 2021 and 2051 for the average person, although members of the lower socio-economic groups, such as unskilled workers, could see life expectancy decline.

Latest data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in its pension trends series showed between 1981 to 2011 life expectancy at the SPA - 65 for men and 60 for women - increases for both sexes every decade.

That said, measures to align the state pension age to 65 years for both men and women mean women will see a decline in their life expectancy between 2011 and 2021, which will narrow the gap between male and female life expectancy, before it "levels off" for both sexes between 2021 and 2051 when the planned increases in SPA match projected increases in life expectancy.

Despite the short decline in female life expectancy as the state retirement ages align, women still have a greater life expectancy at SPA than men, with 24 years of life expectancy beyond retirement age between 2021 and 2051 compared to 22 years for men.

Women are also predicted to have a longer 'healthy' life expectancy - where people can enjoy retirement in good health, free from illness or disability - with 14.5 years for women, compared to 12.8 years for men, as of 2005.

However, the ONS said the increases in the number of years in which 65-year-old men and women can enjoy good or fairly good health are not as consistent year-by-year as general increases in life expectancy, because while the overall figure has increased by 2.6 years for women and 2.9 years for men between 1981 and 2005, in some cases the healthy life expectancy remained static or even fell compared to the previous year.

The ONS warned as SPA is set to rise in parallel with predicted increases in life expectancy over the next 40 years, "if healthy life expectancy increases less than life expectancy, then as SPA rises, people will spend a greater part of their retirement in poor health".

The research meanwhile highlighted inequalities in life and healthy life expectancy between workers from different socio-economic groups, as for example men in non-manual occupations, or the 'professional' class, could expect to live 4.2 years longer than 'unskilled' men in the lowest socio-economic group, which is the same gap between women at the opposing ends of the group.

The ONS pointed out socio-economic differences have a "distinct influence on the amount of time that both men and women have to enjoy their retirement", and warned if this trend continues "it is likely that those from the lowest social class (SC) groups will experience declining life expectancy at SPA in 2021 to 2051, rather than a flattening out of life expectancy which reflects the experience of the ‘average person'." 
 
The latest data also confirmed the highest rates of life expectancy were for men at 65 living in England, and England and Northern Ireland had the best rates of healthy life expectancy, while men aged 65 in Scotland had the lowest rates for both categories.

In addition, English 65-year-old women had the highest rates of life and healthy life expectancy in the whole of the UK in 2005, while women retiring in Scotland would have the shortest retirement period, and Welsh women would have the lowest healthy retirement.

The ONS said "although distinct inequalities exist between life expectancy, healthy life expectancy and disability-free life expectancy of people living in different parts of the UK, it is at present unclear whether such inequalities will persist into the future."

But it warned: "If these inequalities do persist, the effects of a future rise in SPA in the UK as a whole could be seen as disproportionately affecting the amount of time that those living in areas with lower rates of life expectancy, healthy life expectancy and disability-free life expectancy have to enjoy their retirement."

If you have any comments you would like to add to this or any other story, contact Nyree Stewart on + 44 (0)20 7261 4618 or email nyree.stewart@ipe.com

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