Adults are spending an increasing number of their retirement years in poor health, according to a new report.
Think tank the International Longevity Centre says a nationwide discussion is needed to address the issue of health in older age.
The report on ageing and population, which focuses on the situation facing those approaching retirement, also highlights growing inequalities in life expectancy around the country.
“We need to start having very frank discussions about what social care is going to look like, what healthcare is going to look like, what taxation is going to look like, what labour and immigration policies are going look like – and all of this needs to be set against the context of an ageing society,” says co-author of the report, Dean Hochlaf.
The report also flags up dramatic variations in the number of years people can expect to live based on where they live. While 65-year-olds in the London borough of Tower Hamlets have just six-and-a-half years of healthy life expectancy ahead of them, those in the more affluent borough of Richmond can expect 14-and-a-half years.
And while life expectancy is increasing among both men and women, the rise in the number of expected years of healthy life is not keeping pace.
Hochlaf adds: “Obviously it is a great social achievement that we have managed to increase life expectancy, but healthy life expectancy is so crucial for ensuring that there is a better quality of life for older adults.”
The report also reveals that while the ‘gig economy’ is often treated as an issue for young people, older individuals are also affected with more than a quarter of zero-hours work undertaken by the over-50s.
“If older workers want to participate in the flexible labour market, and if they can benefit from it, it’s a good thing – but we also have to make sure that they are recognised as a major component of this new sort of gig economy, ” says Hochlaf.
While the majority of those aged 55-64 own their own homes without a mortgage, the report shows that in recent years there has been an increase in private renting, with almost 12 per cent of the age group renting their home in 2015/16 – up from 4.1 per cent in 2003/04.
Sarah Harper, professor of gerontology at the University of Oxford, says: “Actually, people are still in the labour market, they are doing large amounts of caring not only for grandchildren but for other other adults, so it is actually for many people a time of activity still.”
Harper cautioned that it is difficult to measure healthy life expectancy, particularly with large geographical variations.
“The evidence seems to be that we are pushing back the onset of disability and therefore if anything we can expect people in their sixties and even early seventies probably to have better health and therefore to be able to keep active for longer,” she adds.
Concern has been expressed about increasing levels of inequalities across the country, which campaigners say needs to be addressed.
Debora Price, professor of social gerontology at the University of Manchester, says:“We can see inequalities increasing, and that for many people this is a very tough period of life.
“We know that many older people live with very low incomes, poor housing, long-standing disabilities, high risks of social isolation and loneliness, and little power to change things.”