We are not living as long as we thought warns thinktank. Government’s retirement age rise plans may be based on the wrong assumptions

5th March 2014

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The British may not be living as long as first thought according to research into the census data by a leading thinktank on retirement issues.

The International Longevity Institute UK (ILC-UK) have researched the census figures and suggest that the number of 90 year olds may be 15% lower than might have been expected.

At a panel discussion held at the House of Lords earlier today, specialist insurer – Partnership – and the International Longevity Institute – UK (ILC-UK) led a debate to discuss whether as a nation we are being too optimistic about post-retirement life expectancy.

The debate stems from analysis of the 2011 Census data by Richard Willets (Director of Longevity – Partnership) which highlighted the fact there are 30,000 or 15% fewer people aged in their 90s than estimates based on previous censuses might suggest. This trend has also been noticed in America where the 2004 US Census projected that there would be 114,000 centenarians in 2010 but in actuality, there were only 53,364.

Serious issues around longevity statistics were further highlighted when the ONS November 2013 Population Projections Data was released (click here). It showed that life expectancy for someone aged 65 in 2012-13 had been repeatedly revised down – and now stood materially below figures projected by the ONS in recent years (see table below).

Life expectancy projected by the ONS for some aged 65 in 2012-13:
Year of publication Name of projection Men Women
2009 ‘2008-based’ 19.0yrs 21.3yrs
2011 ‘2010-based’ 18.7yrs 21.1yrs
2013 ‘2012-based’ 18.3yrs 20.6yrs

With the Government increasing the state pension age in line with longevity projections based on the Census, the ILC-UK say it is vital that this issue is examined to determine whether this change is due to environmental issues such as particularly cold winters or a more long-term trend.

Speaking at the event Baroness Sally Greengross, Chief Executive, ILC-UK, said: “With society living progressively longer, Central and Local Government regularly uses data projections to determine how to allocate resources and determine when people should become eligible for certain types of support such as the state pension.   Today’s debate around the missing 90 year olds clearly highlights the value and role of rigorous analysis and expert insight when seeking to understand the real impact of longevity on critical issues of social policy which is at the heart of our population patterns series.”

Richard Willets, Partnership’s Director of Longevity added: “While we naturally want to be optimistic about life expectancy, it is vital that the statistics that are used to determine public spending, state pension age and retirement income are as accurate as projections can be.   Analysis of the 2011 Census and the ONS population projections suggest that this may not be the case and that we need to seriously consider how we collect and use this data.”

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