The UK government is under pressure to abandon planned state pension age rises after life expectancy was found to be falling for the poorest women, with health inequalities widening across the country.
The call came from the opposition Labour party after a world leading expert on social deprivation and health concluded that after a decade of government austerity, improvements in life expectancy in England had stalled over a sustained period for the first time in 120 years.
In a report published on Tuesday, Michael Marmot, who heads the Institute of Health Equity at University College London, highlighted how women’s life expectancy declined between 2010-12 and 2016-18 in the most deprived areas of the country, with negligible increases for men in the same communities.
By contrast, in the most advantaged areas, life expectancy rose for both men and women.
“The government must immediately cancel the planned rises in the state pension age,” said Jack Dromey, shadow pensions minister. “The Conservatives have repeatedly raised the state pension age, even as austerity brings down life expectancy.”
The state pension age is set to rise from 65 to 66 by October this year, and to increase again to 67 between 2026 and 2028.
In 2017 the government accepted a recommendation to bring forward the scheduled rise in SPA to 68 by seven years from 2037 instead of 2044, using increasing life expectancy as a justification.
Analysis this month by Willis Towers Watson, the professional services firm, found that men and women turning 67 in 2028 were now projected to live around two-and-a- half years less, on average, compared with 2014 forecasts, when the law enacting the rise to 67 was passed.
On Tuesday, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The 2017 State Pension age review proposed increasing state pension age to 68 between 2037 and 2039. We have committed to undertake a further review before considering whether to legislate for this or any other further changes.”
Baroness Ros Altmann, a former pensions minister, said the SPA should be more flexible to account for differences in life expectancy.
“There is a nearly 20 year difference in healthy life expectancy between the poorest and wealthiest parts of the country,” said Baroness Altmann. “If someone genuinely is not well enough to work in their early 60s, and perhaps has paid 45 years or more National Insurance [10 more years than the minimum 35], allowing an early access State Pension would finally recognise that average life expectancy is not a useful yardstick for those who die young.”
Separately, experts did not expect the fall in life expectancy among the poorest to have a significant impact on annuity rates, or company pension scheme deficits, both of which are sensitive to changes in mortality rates.
“Pension scheme members and insurance company policyholders, who tend to be from less deprived areas on average, generally have longer life expectancies than the general population and actuaries do allow for this in their calculations,” said Cobus Daneel, chair of the CMI Mortality Projections Committee, which provides life expectancy analysis for the insurance industry.
“However, in recent years actuaries have also been paying closer attention to how mortality rates are diverging and this may mean that postcodes will continue to play an ever-increasing role in annuity pricing and pension scheme funding.”