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Raising state pension age to 71 would be a 'big blow' and risks 'working people to death', experts say

The retirement age will have to rise to 71 by 2050, experts have warned – but any increase would be a 'big blow' to the most vulnerable

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Your retirement funds might be less than you banked on if you relocate. Image: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The state pension age will have to rise to 71 by 2050, experts have warned – but any increase would be a “big blow” to the most vulnerable.

UK workers can currently access the state pension once they turn 66. But the population is rapidly ageing, research from the International Longevity Centre (ILC) shows – threatening the balance of taxpayers to retirees. 

The retirement age is already set to increase to 67 by March 2028 and to 68 by 2044. But these changes may not be enough, explains David Sinclair, chief executive of the ILC.

“We increasingly have many older people and not so many people of working age. This means the state pension is going to cost more,” he told the Big Issue.

“The simple bulk of older people compared to younger people is going to create more and more tensions around how we should be spending money.”

Between 2000 and 2050, the number of people over the age of 65 will have doubled, but the working population will have increased by just a fifth.

It’s a “huge” demographic shift, Sinclair says – but with the next pension review not scheduled until the next parliamentary term, the government isn’t facing up to “difficult decisions” on expenditure.

“The government has to make choices. But they are almost pretending that these choices don’t exist,” he said.

“The options are – you can either tax more, or you can take more debt, or you could reduce the generosity of the pension, or you could increase the state pension age, or you could make it not universal.

“Basically every option the government has is a vote-loser. But they need to have these honest conversations.”

What would raising the pension mean?

An increase to the pension age is no quick-fix. By age 70, only 50% of adults in England and Wales are now disability-free and able to work. Simply increasing entitlement age without investing in preventative healthcare would deprive these people of vital support.

“We’re living longer, but we’re not living healthier. There are over a million people between the age of 50 and the pension age who are not working, but would like to,” Sinclair said. “And increasing the state pension age will make things worse for these people.”

Understandably, the thought of working beyond the age of 70 has incensed droves of social media users.

“[The policy means that the] rich retire whenever they want, live longer. Others [are] forced to work to death,” wrote Lord Prem Sikka on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“This is just cruelty. I’m 60 and have had enough of working but can’t retire until 67! It’s mental torture expecting people to work until they drop,” social media user Jill posted.

Others questioned the point of “paying a pension you’ll never draw” – a reference to the disparity in life expectancy around the country.

Men born in the poorest areas of the country are expected to live to 73.5 – almost 10 years fewer than those living in the richest areas. Women are expected to live to 78, eight years fewer than their wealthy counterparts.

This gap makes an increase to the state pension unjustified, warned Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK.

“Given the uncertainty over future life expectancy and the fact that people on low incomes and in poorer areas generally have appreciably shorter lives than their more fortunate counterparts in leafier places, we see no justification for bringing forward further increases to the state pension age,” she said.

Waiting until 71 for the pension would be a “big blow” to vulnerable people, she added.

“Some of today’s over-50s are either struggling to work or completely unable to do so due to ill health, caring responsibilities or ageism in the labour market, leaving them in a perilous position – reliant on benefits like universal credit or using up all the savings they had put by for their retirement,” she said.

The ILC itself concedes that simply ‘raising the pension’ is not the answer. Instead, they have called on the government to invest in preventative healthcare across the life course and support older people to find meaningful and suitable employment.

A “new deal” for jobs would see increased childcare provision, greater flexibility for employees, and supports for gig-economy workers, Sinclair added.

“The government must help people stay healthy, and create work that generates purpose and value for people,” he said.

“If we are living much longer, we need to find ways to support longer working lives.”

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