Synopsis: The Office for National Statistics has been examining healthy life expectancy figures in England. Its research poses some interesting questions about the consequences of raising State Pension Age in line with life expectancy.

Date posted: Friday, July 25, 2014

Life expectancy in the UK is rising and the government is intent on pushing up State Pension Age (SPA) to reflect this, witness the move to 67 between 2026 and 2028, just legislated for in the Pensions Act 2014. However, as the recent debate on assisted dying has highlighted, staying alive can be very different from healthy living.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has just examined the differences in England between healthy life expectancy and life expectancy based on 2010-12 Upper Tier Local Authority (UTLA) data. The ONS definitions are:

Life expectancy (LE) is straightforward life expectancy, which ONS puts at 79.2 years at birth for a man and 83.0 years for a woman in England.

Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) is the number of years that an individual can expect to live in ‘very good’ or ‘good’ health. This health condition is based upon an ONS Annual Population Survey question: ‘How is your health in general; would you say it was…very good, good, fair, bad or very bad?’ Clearly this is somewhat subjective yardstick, but ONS suggest that the 95% confidence interval generally covers little more than a year. For England as a whole the healthy male life expectancy is 63.4, while for women the corresponding number is 64.1 – a much smaller gap than for life expectancy alone.

The ONS notes that ‘A clear North-South divide was observed with regions in the South East, South West and East of England all having a significantly higher HLE than the England average. The West Midlands, North West, North East, and Yorkshire and The Humber all had significantly lower HLE than the England estimate.’ For instance in the South East the HLEs were 65.8 for men and 67.1 for women, while in the North East they were 59.5 and 60.1 respectively.

At the UTLA level, the ONS found that ‘Of the 150 UTLAs analysed…males on average in 77 authorities had a significantly lower HLE than the state pension age (assessed at 65 for both genders, where it will be by 2018) while for females this was true in 68 authorities. In fact there were only 17 local authorities for men and 27 for females where HLE was significantly higher than the state pension age.’


The march upwards of SPA may not necessarily be the money saver that the government hopes for: reduced pension payments may mean more ill-health benefits.


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