Revealed: The poor health in old age scandal

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, gave evidence on the damning statistics effecting the healthy living prospects for the elderly Pic credit:

Today the House of Lords published an extremely worrying report into the prospect for millions of elderly people being able to enjoy a healthy old age.

I had not realised that Theresa May’s government had committed in 2017 to the Ageing Society Grand Challenge – a promise by 2035 that everybody in the country should be able to enjoy an extra five years good health in retirement. I have a feeling like the notice of the first raising of the pension age it has had little publicity.

Readers of my blog who have followed the BackTo60 campaign to get 3.8 million women born in the 1950s full restitution for their lost pensions will greet this aim with a hollow laugh – given there is growing anecdotal evidence that many women in their early 60s are already falling ill while working before they can even claim their pension. I wrote a blog about the figures in 2018 – see here.

But what this report confirms is not only that life expectancy has flatlined since 2011 but prospects for a healthy retirement has got worse particularly for the poor. The report reveals that the chances for a man to get an extra five years healthy retirement will take not 14 years as promised by the challenge but an incredible 75 years. They will be long dead by 2096.

For a woman it is actually worse – chances of having an extra five years healthy retirement is receding and getting worse by the day.

Figures in the report confirm what the Office for National Statistics has disclosed that Britain is slipping down the league table of advanced countries for those living longer – with men, who on average die earlier than women, have a higher increase in longevity than women. See my blog on this here.

Growing equality gap between rich and poor areas

But what is deeply disturbing is the huge gap between those in wealthy and deprived areas.

The report says: “In England in the period 2016–18, the difference in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas was 9.5 years for males and 7.5 years for females. The differences in healthy life expectancy are 18.9 years for males and 19.4 years for females.”

The report notes: “the health situation is somewhat similar to other countries that have experienced
political, social and economic disruption and widening social and economic inequalities.” The report also noted that “in some of the key social determinants, inequalities are widening in England”.

The largest killer of men is heart disease and for women it is Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Heart disease deaths are falling while dementia is on the rise which explains the changes in longevity.

In a 2016 analysis of 20 countries, females in the UK had the lowest rate of improvement in life expectancy, followed by those in the USA. For males, the UK had the second-lowest rate of improvement,
after the USA.

The report concludes:” Inequalities in healthy life expectancy are stark, with people in the least deprived groups living more than 18 years longer in good health than those in the most deprived groups.”

This also hit ethnic minorities very badly as evidence given by Professor Chris Whitty , the chief medical officer to peers. He told them: “People from ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty in older age; 29% of Asian or Asian British people and 33% of Black or Black British people over the age of 65 live in poverty, compared with 14% of White people.”

Will it get better or worse?

So what is to be done and will it get worse ? For a start it will get worse because of Covid19 as the report was mainly written before the pandemic took hold and it is known that Covid killed disproportionately larger numbers of the elderly saving the DWP over £600m a year in pension payouts. In a postscript to the report the peers from science and technology committee say both short term and long term effects are an unknown.

On the positive side new technologies and robotics and new drug trials to treat diseases promise to make life better for the elderly provided they can access them.

Peers warn that unless growing inequality is tackled by the government – these benefits could widen the gap between rich and poor as wealthier pensioners would be able to benefit while the poor would be left behind.

The report also exposes the lack of a government strategy at the top to tackle this.

Peers say: “The Government is not on track to achieve the Ageing Society Grand Challenge mission to ensure five years of extra healthy life by 2035 while reducing inequalities, and does not appear to be monitoring progress towards the mission. It is hard to see how the target could be met without significant changes to the way it is managed.”

For those who criticise the House of Lords as an irrelevant institution – this report shows the House working at its best – it is a very thorough, well researched report – drawing attention to an overlooked issue and warning the government that it needs urgently to act to take this seriously. Whether it will, given the complacency of some ministers, is another matter.

The full report can be accessed here.

14 thoughts on “Revealed: The poor health in old age scandal

  1. This must prove that not paying the 50s Women’s Pensions is causing many to be Destitute Homeless also Covid Vulnerable as they have No Pension yet they have paid in. This gross injustice should be treated with immediate Action to put this right Now


    • Dear Patricia Cartwright,
      We Paid In, You Pay Out big pension campaign group (that now includes the 1960s born turning 60 with pension age 67) is trying to help those in their 60s to shield from Covid19, by reverting to pension age 60 for women (I always include men).

      To gain full works and state pension payment now, before 66 / 67.


  2. For those less well off who have just the state pension to live on are struggling to pay their bills so good food and nutrition are not always an option. We are a wealthy nation and it is nothing short of a scandal that the state pension is one of the lowest in the western world. It should at least be the same as the minimum wage.


  3. There have always been wealthy pensioners, just as there are ones truly living in poverty. Women suffer more than men. They were often unable to qualify for a works pension, purely because women were excluded from them. They were always the primary careers for elderly parents and children, meaning that they often had to resort to working p/t, so losing years of eligible pension contributions, or being unable to work at all!
    I’m fortunate, I’m 38, I am allowed to join an employers pension scheme and I have another 30 years to plan my retirement.
    Women born in the 50’s were denied these opportunities, many were never informed of pension changes either. This has resulted in many living in poverty, having to choose between heating or eating, paying their rent or their Council Tax. Something has to change, to restore dignity and healthy living conditions to these women.


  4. Poverty in later years leads to anxiety and ill health, both contribute to a loss of dignity, and a sense of being outside society – trying to pay bills, leaving the heating switched off, cutting down on decent food, and no money for socialising. Being elderly in Britain is a fearsome thing. We need to radically rethink how single older people on a low income live, eg not in single households with all the expenses to bear, but in some style of co-operative living. These could be smaller private areas linked to open social areas, a bit like some student accommodation. A new way of living could be more economic and more sociable for our older folk, who have worked, raised families and cared for others, and who deserve a worry free, comfortable and dignified end of life.


  5. I am fed of reading this sort of media. I have asked several times,
    Why is it that I have worked and paid full contributions and only get £137.60 state pension yet someone who hasn’t worked for years gets £177.10 Pension credit plus lots of other benefits
    New pension £179.60 and they haven’t got 40 odd years contributions. Nobody has yet answered that question even Ms T Coffey hadn’t had the decency to answer it.


    • Dear Anita Taylor,
      The old basic state pension is lower than the new flat rate (retired since April 2016), but most women do not get the full flat rate due to small print, even if have 49 years National Insurance history.

      Pension Credit is means tested, but was lost from age 60 to 66 by both men and women by women’s pension age rise (Welfare Reform Act 2012).

      Pension Credit makes it easier to claim full council tax support and pensioner housing benefit.

      Pension Credit does not rely on your National Insurance record. It is a top up of low income up to just below the full state pension payment.

      Politicians do not understand the SERPs additional top up state second pension system and how SERPs opt out (mostly not needing your consent) effects the new flat rate.

      It was unjust to have the difference of old basic state pension money and the new flat rate, but do not assume that most women will be getting the full new flat rate. We are not, and will not for decades to come.

      Half of men are also not getting the full new flat rate state pension money.


    • If all you have is £137.60 SP you should be able to get pension credit to top that up to £173.75 a week. On top of that you should be able to get help with your rent and council tax. Of course, if you have a private pension, which takes you over the limit for help, or if you have other household income (a partner’s wage/pension, for example) and/or a lot of savings, you may not qualify.


  6. Dear David Hencke,
    UK older working class are the most chronic sick and / or disabled of any rich nation on earth, and begin to fall out of work, men and women, from age 50 due to ill health by the millions.

    This is not new.

    Life expectancy has not merely reduced.
    The assumption of continuing life from 50 to 70 ended in 2011.

    Blair’s own government actuaries foretold back in 2005 that pension age rise would result in a high increase of people long dead before retirement. Blair did not care and rose pension age still higher than the Tories, now hitting the 1960s born, with pension age 67, now turning 60 (from 2020).

    It is not a scandal of ill health, but a scandal of pension age rise.

    Actuaries know the earlier you retire, the longer you live, the later you work, the shorter you live in retirement.

    The 1950s women had the biggest increase of early death, aged in our 50s and 60s, since pension age rise.

    We also saw the increase of I Daniel Blakes, men and women, from age 60, by women’s losing state pension and men and women losing Pension Credit from age 60.

    We also lost (by Labour’s 2004 Finance Act, enacted 2010) early works pension from age 50 to 55 from 2010.


  7. I am 64 in three weeks I still work as can’t afford not to . I have health issues and if it wasn’t for my wonderful senior a would really struggle. I can’t believe from working from the age of ,15yrs I am still working after being told a year before I was due to retire I have to work 6 more years . Wouldn’t of been so bad a couple of extra . I am so angry my country has let me down like this .


    • I had planned for a comfortable retirement, starting my pension in my early 20s. By the time the government had mis-appropriated the (271 billion) NI Pot and breached the contract for retirement at 60, encouraging private companies to move retirement dates, indulged in the big SERPS scam in order to deprive more pensioners, I found myself unwell before the age of 60 but expected to be able to provide the care I needed for myself. As I now have to build up contributions for 48 years, instead of the 38 years required even under the new retiement dates, I am beoming increasingly unwell, have less mobility and fitness than my over-80-year-old neighbour and little expectation of rectifiying this or slowing the deterioation; after four and a half more years stolen from me, I doubt I will have either a good or long retirement, even though I have already paid for it for over 40 years – but that was really the point wasn’t it? Maybe Theresa May will get an extra 5 more good years but not the likes of us!


  8. I am living off my savings which won’t last much longer. I’m 63 and have to wait another 3 years for my pension in which time I could be dead. And who will get my pension because I’m single with no family Born 1957 paid pension all my life and now I get nothing.


  9. Pingback: Revealed: The poor health in old age scandal – Westminster Confidential | Tory Britain!

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