Since the pandemic, people now work six fewer months over the course of their lives

As the UK government warns that the state pension age might need to rise, a new report from the the International Longevity Centre UK (ILC) claims that, between 2019 and 2022, people’s work span in the UK fell by 6 months. The report argues that, to enable more people to stay healthy and be in work for longer, the next government should invest more in preventing ill health, supporting people to stay in work and building healthier behaviours.

In the second edition of its Healthy Ageing and Prevention Index that ranks countries across the world on how well they are adapting to longer lives across six metrics: life span, health span, work span, income, environmental performance and happiness. The UK ranks 14th (out of 153 countries) and while, on the whole, people in the UK are living longer, healthier and richer lives than before the pandemic, not enough has changed, according to the authors.

Following the expert think tank’s warning, earlier this year, that the state pension age might need to increase to 71 by 2050 to maintain the status quo of the constant number of workers per pensioner, new ILC analysis shows that between 2019 and 2022:

  • We work 6 months less than before the pandemic: our average work span has dropped from 31.6 to 31.1 years. And overall, the UK ranks 73rd (of 153 countries) in terms of time spent in work throughout our lives.
  • We’re less happy: the UK’s happiness score has dropped 0.5 points from 7.2 to 6.7 (out of 10).
  • And as a country, we are less environmentally sustainable than in 2019: the UK’s environmental performance score has dropped from 81.3 to 77.7.

As the country faces record skills shortages hitting all sectors, supporting people to stay in or return to work is paramount, argues ILC. Recent analysis by ILC found there were 1.65 million people aged between 50 and 69 were pushed out of work early in the UK, due to a combination of redundancy, ill health or early retirement. And according to latest ONS labour market statistics around 9.4 million people aged 16 to 64 are now economically inactive (22.1%), around 2.6 million due to ill health.

To begin to address these issues, the ILC calls on the next Government to:

  • Invest at least 6 percent of the UK health budget annually on preventing ill health
  • Support greater flexibility in the workplace and embracing initiatives such as carers’ leave and 4-day working week that will allow more people who want to be in work.
  • Take forward initiatives that include minimum alcohol pricing, sugar taxes, and compulsory reformulation of foods high in fat, sugar or salt
  • Provide funding for employees of all ages to pursue age discrimination through the courts