A new report by Professor Sir Michael Marmot for the Institute of Health Equity not only highlights the stalling of increases in UK life expectancy generally since 2010 but actually also identifies a FALL in life expectancy for women in the poorest areas. The report suggests that austerity has had an impact, which seems a natural conclusion even if it isn’t quite proven definitively yet. There is a well-established link between poverty and early death and people in deprived areas continue to die sooner than their more affluent peers – and this gap could widen if the current trend continues.
However, there is a contrary view that the current slowdown is just a trough in the long-term trend that offsets the peak improvements we saw in the first decade of this millennium. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) released statistics on global longevity back in August 2019 that showed a significant slowdown in longevity improvements in Germany, Spain, Sweden and Portugal and a complete stalling in the USA so we’re definitely not alone. At the same time, Japan has had sluggish increases in longevity for some time and only recently saw improvements start to accelerate again, which is perhaps understandable given that they have been leading the way with the highest longevity in the world. In the UK, we may lag behind France, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy on life expectancy but we’re still ahead of the USA, Poland and Russia, so it’s not all bad news.
Personally, I believe that there is some truth in both views, with the negative impact of austerity exacerbating the effect of natural fluctuations over time. As far as pension schemes are concerned, it’s important to assess the latest data available and consider how relevant it is for the particular scheme in question. Most importantly, we should think about what we’ll do when it inevitably turns out that our best projections are wrong!