The Department of Health and Social Care has been accused of ignoring repeated warnings about stagnating life expectancy, from academics who are demanding an urgent inquiry into whether austerity policies could be driving the trend. They asked how ministers could justify pushing up the state pension age in the current climate, especially as the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries had taken notice of the trend and adjusted their projections.
The academics said that in recent years there had been “one of the greatest slowdowns [in life expectancy improvements] for both sexes since the 1890s”, with rates even declining for some groups. It was indisputable that life expectancy had stalled in England and Wales, with suspicions that prolonged austerity mattered a great deal.
Given the lack of alternative reasons for the decline, they said they were calling for an immediate investigation into a potential link between the death rates and underfunding of the NHS and social care.
The four senior academics said, however, their warnings were falling on deaf ears. “Concerns about life expectancy have been raised by academics at least twice in 2017, and twice the DoH’s responses have been disappointing, even attacking the researchers involved,” they have written in the article for the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
One of the academics, Martin McKee, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said with no natural disaster to explain the phenomenon, and flu epidemics at most contributing only partly to the trend, it was imperative to look at “severe cuts in social care” and the evidence that the “NHS was struggling to cope”. He added: “Recent developments call into question current proposals to increase the state pension age.”
With pensions, said Danny Dorling, a professor at the school of geography and the environment at the University of Oxford, people ought to know that if the trend continued people in the UK could expect to experience among the very lowest life expectancies in Europe, with a larger proportion dying before receiving a pension or within a few years of the payments.