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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Social inequalities and poor health impact on working life expectancy

At a joint meeting of the Profession and the International Longevity Centre UK on February 17 in Edinburgh, Professor Les Mayhew, of the Cass Business School, presented a paper arguing that, despite an acceptance that increasing life expectancy will mean people working longer, inequality and poor health will have a serious and detrimental effect on people’s ability to work.

Professor Mayhew’s report, Increasing longevity and the economic value of healthy ageing and working longer, identifies strong links between quality of life and health with working life expectancy. Those with the longest working life expectancy at the age of 50 have a higher standard of education, are home owners, married or co-habiting and are in reasonable health. However, poor health and caring responsibilities such as sick partners can have a negative impact on working life expectancy.

Professor Mayhew argued: “If a significant proportion of people are unable to work, it will do little to alleviate the problems we face. There may be a danger that healthy people of working age become a scarce commodity.

“We need to ensure that people stay healthy longer and it is important to investigate strategies to achieve this. Tackling societal inequality, long associated with poor health, is certainly an option, as are campaigns to improve public health. But this does not necessarily mean increased NHS spending. A complete cessation of smoking, for example, would yield a considerably higher increase in healthy life expectancy and economic benefits than a 50% increase in healthcare spending. If ill health presents a barrier to the extension of working life, it will also prevent a barrier to the economic benefits this extension would provide.”