Pensioner poverty: Rising pension age risks greater levels of poverty and health inequities, experts warn  

“Even the suggestion that people won’t get it until their 70s will make people feel more distrustful than they already do in the state pension system.”


The retirement age in the UK needs to rise to 71 for middle-aged workers to maintain its affordability, a study on the impact of growing life expectancy and falling birthrates has warned.

Between May 2026 and March 2028, the pensionable age of 66 is set to rise to 67. From 2044, it is expected to increase to 68.

New data from the International Longevity Centre (ILC) suggests that this is not enough, and workers born after April 1970 may have to work until they are 71 to claim their state pension.

Separate research shows that by the age of 70, only 50 percent of adults in England and Wales are disability-free and able to work.

The ILC’s announcement was met with alarm, igniting warnings about worsening health inequalities. David Finch, assistant director at the Heath Foundation, said increasing the state pension age without providing support for workers with health issues would worsen the situation by exacerbating existing health inequalities.

“The government should provide more support for people already out of work due to health issues. Employers can help by adapting roles and maintaining contact with employees on sick leave,” he said.

Becky O’Connor, director of Public Affairs at PensionBee, said such a dramatic increase to the pensionable age was an “alarming prospect.”

“Even the suggestion that people won’t get it until their 70s will make people feel more distrustful than they already do in the state pension system and may cause actual worry and anxiety about their future,” she said.

A study by the Centre for Ageing Better highlights the issue of pensioner poverty, the stark inequalities in the nation’s aging population, and the need for urgent action.

The State of Ageing 2023 report shows that among UK adults, 25 percent of people aged 60 – 64 have the highest rate of relative poverty. At almost 18 percent, relative pensioner poverty, is at one of its highest rates this century, and is more than four percentage points higher than a decade ago. 2.1 million retirees in Britain have an income of less than 60 percent of the national average.

The research also found that poverty rates are even higher among some older people from ethnic minority backgrounds. More than one in three people from Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds aged 50 and over are living in relative poverty.

Dr Carole Easton, chief executive at the Centre for Ageing Better, said that while inroads have been made with pensioner poverty over the last 50 years, progress should never be taken for granted, and the trends from the new State of Ageing report show that “it is very much under threat now.”

“The factors behind this as are not yet entirely clear though the pandemic has undoubtedly played its part. The trends pre-date the current cost-of-living crisis which is now compounding societal inequality and most significantly impacting the poorest in our country.

“Not only is the cost-of-living crisis causing many current pensioners to cut back on food, heating, showers and going to the dentist; it is significantly limiting the ability of the next generations of pensioners from paying into their pensions and savings, potentially creating the conditions for greater pensioner poverty in the future,” said Dr Easton.

The Centre for Ageing Better is calling for a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing to ensure that policymakers are planning for the country’s ageing population and “considering the needs of the poorest and most disadvantaged older people, both among the current retired generation and future generations of retirees.”

A separate survey by the Bavan foundation highlights the grim reality of pensioner poverty in Britain, specifically in Wales, where, being home to the UK’s oldest population, concerns are growing of a looming pensioner poverty time bomb. The study found than more than one in five pensioners in Wales have gone without heating their home at some point this winter. 13 percent have gone without a bath or shower.

It also found one in ten pensioners have cut down, or skipped meals altogether, while 8 percent have opted out of taking an essential journey, such as attending a medical appointment.

Steffan Evans, head of policy at the Bevan Foundation, said that cost of living payments, which were paid to the poorest households in 2023, should be reinstated.

“Those cost of living payments eased a lot of the pressure that people faced, and they’re not there this year, even though the financial pressures are very much the same.

“Without that extra support, people are finding life much more difficult. We need to be giving that money and putting it back into people’s pockets because that will ultimately reduce pressure on our NHS and other public services as well,” he said.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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