Why England's women life expectancy data should prompt pensions rethink

Lianna Brinded
Head of Yahoo Finance UK
Falling life expectancy for women from most deprived areas in the UK is prompting calls for early access to state pension. (Getty)

Life expectancy in England has stalled over the last decade but women who come from the most deprived areas of the country are suffering the most.

According to the Marmot Review report, the stagnation in life expectancy has not happened since at least 1900 and “if health has stopped improving it is a sign that society has stopped improving. When a society is flourishing health tends to flourish.”

Financiers have warned that this will prompt calls for the government to allow people earlier access to state pension funds.

“Life expectancy stalling overall and reversing for some, in particular women from more deprived areas brings huge challenges,” said Nathan Long, senior analyst at financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown.

“A widening gap between rich and poor, and across regions of the UK adds additional pressure to the pension system. Raising 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.”

What is the life expectancy?

Healthy life expectancy has fallen on average for women but those in the poorest 10% of areas, saw life expectancy fall between 2010-12 and 2016-18.

Source: ONS, 2019 (20) Chart: Marmot Review

People, in general, from the poorest areas spend more of their lives in ill health than those in affluent areas, said the report.

Source: ONS, 2020 (23). Chart: Marmot Review

The report, led by Sir Michael Marmot is one of the country's leading experts on health inequalities. Over a decade ago, he published a major review into the growing gap between the rich and poor and looked at regional inequalities from the north and south of England.

Read more: How to save for a pension

“The national government has not prioritised health inequalities, despite the concerning trends and there has been no national health inequalities strategy since 2010,” said the report.

“We see this as an essential first step in leading the necessary national endeavour to reduce health inequalities. We set out a clear agenda for national government to tackle health inequalities, building on evidence of experience in other countries and local areas since 2010. We establish how the government must take action in England as a matter of urgency.

“The goal should be to bring the level of health of deprived areas in the North up to the level of good health enjoyed by people living in affluent areas in London and the South.”

UK health secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement on Tuesday: "There is still much more to do, and our bold prevention agenda, record £33.9bn [$43.9] a year investment in the NHS, and world-leading plans to improve children's health will help ensure every person can lead a long and healthy life."

On Tuesday, the government also announced that it has confirmed a multi-billion pound spending increase for councils. It said the settlement is “the biggest real-terms increase in spending power in a decade and includes an extra £1.5bn for social care.”

UK state pension concerns

State pension age is to increase from 65 to 66 from October 2020. (Getty)

Both men and women can claim their state pension at the age of 65 but this will increase to 66 by October 2020.

There are currently proposals for the age to claim a state pension rising to 67 between 2026 and 2028 with further increases to 68 between 2037 and 2039 — this has yet to be confirmed.

The state pension will rise by 3.9%, or over £6 a week, from 6 April this year. This is the equivalent to £175.20 a week, or to £9,110.40 a year.

People are living for longer than they were even just a few decades ago and due to the 1960s baby boom, this means that there are more people entering retirement than worker borns since then to pay for their pensions.

Read more: The UK town where men would work until they die if the pension age hits 75

For some baby boomers, it could mean they spend a third of their lives in retirement.

However, as the age continues to increase to claim a state pension although data showing the life expectancy is stagnating or declining for certain areas of society, it has prompted some to say that the government should look to allowing early access to cash.

This is especially pertinent to those who come from deprived areas and struggle for a large proportion of their lives from ill health and live for a shorter amount of time.

In the meantime, Long from Hargreaves Lansdown said that “the best way to prepare yourself is to take control of your financial future. Squirreling just a few extra pounds away each month can make all the difference when it comes to finishing work, particularly if you find you cannot continue due to ill health.”

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