State pension age can’t keep rising if we’re all dying earlier

State pension: Nigel Mills MP discusses rise in retirement age

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Currently, men and women have to wait until age 66 before claiming their state pension.

That will rise to 67, between 2026 and 2028.

Under the current timetable, it will rise again to 68 between 2044 and 2046.

Ministers had considered bringing that timetable forward to 2037 or even 2034, but were deterred by fears of a backlash from middle-aged voters with an election looming.

Rishi Sunak’s government is trailing Labour badly in the polls and making voters wait even longer to get their state pension wouldn’t have helped.

The decision, if confirmed when the government publishes the results of its state pension age review May 7, will come as a relief for millions but it’s been made for a sobering reason.

The big argument in favour of repeatedly hiking the state pension age is that people are living for longer, which makes it too costly.

However, official figures show that life expectancy is now falling. 

In 2014, the Office for National Statistics predicted that by 2028 average life expectancy for a 67-year-old man would be 88.1 years rising to 90.1 years for women.

Now it has cut those numbers to 85.7 years for men and 87.8 years for women.

That’s a drop of more than two years.

The Covid pandemic has played a part, while the nation’s poor diet and sedentary lifestyles aren’t helping.

Nor are lengthy NHS waiting lists, with more than seven million stuck waiting for an operation, often while their health problems intensify.

Bringing forward the state pension age hike in these circumstances would have gone down like a lead balloon, said Becky O’Connor, director of public affairs at PensionBee.

“Increasing the state pension age hits low earners hardest, as they are most dependent on the state pension, and lack personal savings to bridge the gap if they retire early,” she says.

Another big problem is that millions of workers now fall sick in their early 50s. They are forced to stop working years before they turn 66, let alone 67 or 68. Manual workers find it hardest.

Millions are already forced to scrape by on any meagre savings or benefits until the state pension kicks in, if they live that long.

Again, those on low incomes are hit hardest, with male life expectancy in the poorest parts of the UK a staggering 10 years lower than in the richest, and eight years for women.

Many risk dying before getting a penny in state pension, despite making decades of National Insurance contributions.

Making them wait longer is deeply unfair, yet that’s what’s happening.

One suggestion is that people should be allowed to claim their state pension early, albeit at a lower rate. 

However, this would have a huge upfront cost for the Treasury, while those who take early retirement but end up living long lives will struggle on a reduced pension.

Life on the state pension is hard even if you get the maximum amount. 

Carole Easton, chief executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, said any future state pension age hike should be introduced gradually and with plenty of advanced notice.

It should be preceded by reforms such as flexible working, carers’ leave, employer health support and targeted employment support.

Working into later life is great if you’re healthy. You can stay social, earn extra cash, boost your pension and contribute to the economy. 

The problem is that too many can’t do it.

As we die younger, we can’t keep working later and later.

If we were French, we’d be rioting.

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