Putting off pensions for sick and disabled older people

By Savi Hensman
December 5, 2013

Pension age will keep rising, UK chancellor George Osborne announced in his autumn statement today (5 December 2013). Young people now finishing their education will probably have to wait until they are in their 70s. This will have a devastating effect on some areas and sections of society.

The rise in pension age is linked to the fact that, on average, people are living longer. But life expectancy, and healthy and disability-free life expectancy, vary widely. Those who are socially and economically disadvantaged are likely to become chronically sick or disabled at an earlier age, and die younger.

In 2009–11, male life expectancy at birth was highest in East Dorset, at 83.0 years – 9.2 years higher than in Blackpool, which had the lowest figure. Only 77 per cent of baby boys in Blackpool could expect to reach their 65th birthday. For females, life expectancy at birth ranged from 86.4 years in East Dorset to 79.3 years in Manchester.

So, unless society becomes far more equal, in some areas people will frequently die before they can get a pension.

Healthy life expectancy (HLE) and disability-free life expectancy (DFLE) are also relevant. HLE estimates lifetime spent in ‘Very good’ or ‘Good’ health based upon self-perceived general health. DFLE estimates lifetime free from a persistent illness or disability that can affect ability to carry out everyday tasks.

Richmond upon Thames had the highest HLE for both males (70.3 years) and females (72.1 years). The lowest HLE was in Manchester for males at 55.0 years and Tower Hamlets for females at 54.1 years.

At birth, males in the least deprived areas in 2007-10 could expect to live about 15 more years disability-free than males in the most deprived areas, while for females it was almost 13.5 years.

It is now very difficult to be assessed as being too sick to be reasonably expected to get a job. And even some people who are can have their social security payments cut for failing to take part in work-related activities that may be beyond their capabilities.

There are also many older job-seekers who are limited in the kind of work they can safely do without too much pain or fatigue. Also employers are often reluctant to take on older workers. Harsh measures aimed at those experiencing long-term unemployment may badly affect people in this position.

So raising pension age is likely to mean that in many geographical areas, and in poorer communities in better-off areas, numerous people will not live to draw their pension, or do so for only a year or two before they die. Meanwhile sizeable numbers of people in their late 50s, 60s and even 70s with conditions such as heart disease or cancer may be pushed to keep working, possibly unpaid, until they collapse or drop out, at which point they may be left destitute.

However those who are well-off will have a much greater chance of enjoying their retirement.

This is cruel and unjust.


© Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, economics, society, welfare and religion. She is an Ekklesia associate and works in the equality and care sector.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.